Shin Bet Apologizes to Professor Over Pope Security Incident

Traumatic May 2009 encounter between visiting professor from Japan, Shin Bet security service resolved.

A traumatic encounter between a visiting professor from Japan and the Shin Bet security service in May 2009 was finally resolved, when the Shin Bet issued an apology to the professor.

Ofer Feldman, an Israeli expatriate who was spending the year in Jerusalem, is on the faculty at Doshisha University in Kyoto and is a Japanese citizen. He was in his apartment in the student dorms on Mount Scopus talking to a friend by computer, while Pope Benedict XVI was preparing to leave the city via the nearby Hadassah University Hospital helipad.

From his window, Feldman took several photos of the helipad. While he was doing so, a Shin Bet man in plain clothes burst into his apartment, identifying himself as a policeman, and demanded that Feldman destroy the pictures.

The man told Feldman that if he refused, a patrol car would be called and he would be arrested.

Last week, after several months of correspondence with the police, the Police Investigation Department in the Justice Ministry and the petitions departments of the Justice Ministry and the Shin Bet, Feldman received an apology from the Shin Bet's comptroller's department.

Feldman, a Lady Davis Fellowship Trust visiting scholar in political science and East Asian studies at the Hebrew University, will be leaving the country tomorrow at the end of his year-long sabbatical.

According to the correspondence, the man who broke into Feldman's apartment was armed, was accompanied by the security officer from the student dorms and did not have a warrant.

Shocked, at first Feldman refused the demand that he delete the pictures, and then complied. Then the "policeman," who identified himself only by his first name and his identity number, demanded Feldman close the window so he could not see what was happening outside, and left the apartment.

A month later Feldman, through his host, Prof. Menachem Hofnung of the Hebrew University's political science department, wrote a letter to the Police Investigations Department at the Justice Ministry, which responded that the man who broke into Feldman's apartment was not a member of the police force.

Further investigation revealed that the man was a Shin Bet agent and the address for complaints was the Prime Minister's Office.

Meanwhile, Feldman reported the incident to his employers at the university in Kyoto.

Feldman and Hofnung demanded a full apology from the Shin Bet, which they received last week.

"The event in question was a security matter unusual in its scope and sensitivity," the letter to Feldman said. "It required extensive and unusual security action. There was concern that someone would try to harm to pope on the helipad at Hadassah hospital, which is close to the dorms. Under the circumstances the security officer did not have the authority to demand the photos be deleted, not to mention to state that your refusal to do so would require him to summon a patrol car."

The letter ended by saying that the security officer had been doing his job and his intent had been to protect the pope, although his actions exceeded his authority.

Feldman said, "As an expatriate, I am concerned by how a democracy treated [the matter], from the conduct of its guardians and in other words, who guards the guardians. It is very easy to break into a person's home, conduct a search and ask that photographs be destroyed and threaten to summon a patrol car. The matter raises questions, and so does the slowness of the investigation and the apology."