Shin Bet summons Left activists for “warning conversations”

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed a petition on July 25 asking the High Court of Justice to order the General Security Service (Shin Bet) to stop its practice of summoning Left activists for “warning conversations.” The petition includes testimonies of political and social activists who were called in over the past year for “warning conversations” with Shin Bet agents. The testimonies reveal how these conversations, which were not formal investigations on suspicion of specific crimes, were used to deter activists who pursue agendas outside the consensus. The conversations included personal questions about the citizens’ political activities, relationships and finances. In some cases the agents raised general claims (but not specific allegations) about involvement in disturbances of the peace; in others, activists were told explicitly that while “for now” they were not suspected of violating the law, they should be careful not to do so in the future.

The petition was filed by ACRI Attorney Lila Margalit and Attorney Karen Tamir. It argues that bringing political activists in for such warnings exceeds the legal authority of the Shin Bet and violates the citizens’ fundamental constitutional rights – first and foremost the freedom of expression and protest, and also the rights to dignity, privacy, freedom, equality and due process. The Shin Bet is a clandestine security agency that possesses wide-ranging powers – including the power to wiretap citizens’ phones (with approval of the Prime Minister) and use communications metadata without judicial oversight. According to ACRI, “in a democratic society, political activity does not constitute a ‘security threat’ that justifies the intervention of an organization like the Shin Bet. Any concerns about violations of the law during political protests should be addressed by the police within the confines of the regular criminal law.” The petition cites, among other sources, a section from the 2012 Annual Summary published on the Shin Bet website, in which, under the title “Radical Right and Left” it is noted that “Shin Bet information, passed to the state enforcement agencies, has helped to curb acts of de-legitimization of Israel.”

Next time a “warning conversations” with Shin Bet agents? Israeli border police arresting an activist during a protest in the northern city of Um al-Fahem, against the Prawer-Begin Plan, a governmental plan which if implemented will displace more than 40,000 Arab-Bedouin citizens from their homes in the Negev, August 1, 2013 (Photo: Activestills)

Attorney Margalit said: “Calling political activists in for friendly conversations over a cup of tea with undercover Shin Bet agents is not a practice that characterizes a democratic regime. The Shin Bet, entrusted to deal with serious security threats, possesses far-reaching powers, some of which are very problematic. It is intolerable for civil protest or political activism – even if it involves disruptions of the peace – to be classified as a security threat. The policy of calling in activists for warnings violates the constitutional rights not just of the activists actually called in, but also of all those individuals who refrain from political involvement as a result.”