Attorney general to probe Shin Bet’s detainment of civilians entering Israel

In latest report on questionings at airport, Iranian-American author Reza Aslan says he was threatened by agent that he wouldn’t see his kids again ‘for a long time’

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on July 2, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit attends a conference at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute on July 2, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Attorney General’s Office will probe the recent detainment and questioning of a number of Israeli and foreign nationals by the Shin Bet security service as they entered Israel, the Haaretz newspaper reported Tuesday, amid a rash of reports on questionable practices at the airport.

The issue received prominent attention Monday after Jewish-American journalist and Israeli government critic Peter Beinart said he was questioned on his political views upon arriving in the country for his niece’s bat mitzvah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Beinart’s detainment, calling it an “administrative mistake,” and a number of left-wing Israeli figures called for an investigation into Israel’s apparent new policy of blacklisting liberal US Jews.

Beinart rejected Netanyahu’s apology, saying Palestinians endure “far worse” on a daily basis.

According to Haaretz, Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber’s office said in a letter earlier this month that it will look into the incidents and ask the Shin Bet for clarification. Zilber’s office was responding to a request to probe the matter from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, an NGO.

Illustrative: People stand in line to go through passport control at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel, September 21, 2008. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Also Tuesday, a prominent Iranian-American author said he was questioned and threatened by the Shin Bet two weeks ago when entering Israel from Jordan with his family.

In a series of Twitter posts, Reza Aslan likened the interrogation to those in “police states” and said he decided to share the experience after Beinart disclosed his own detention.

In this photo from January 5, 2016, Reza Azlan speaks during the “Rough Draft with Reza Aslan” panel at the Ovation 2016 Winter TCA in Pasadena, California. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

“We can make it so you don’t see your kids for a long time,” Aslan recalled being warned by the Shin Bet interrogator.

He said he was asked why he hates Israel. When he responded that he did not, the interrogator replied “But you hate our prime minister.”

Aslan recalls having responded: “I’m sorry is your prime minister Israel?”

He was then accused of opposing Israel’s right to exist, which Aslan said is not the case. “I’m against the occupation not Israel.”

Aslan said he was then asked by a female Shin Bet officer to write down the names of Palestinians, journalists, and relevant organizations that he associates with.

“In the end, after hours of this, she warned ‘I may let you into Israel but, who knows, I may not let you out. I will keep you here and kick out your family. It depends on you. You would miss your kids yes?’ That my friends is the classic police state trick. Iran has perfected it,” Aslan wrote.

Beinart became the latest progressive American Jew to be detained and questioned upon entering Israel. Others recently held up include Simone Zimmerman, a co-founder of the progressive Jewish group IfNotNow; Abby Kirschbaum, who works for an Israeli-Palestinian tour company; and the novelist Moriel Rothman-Zecher.

In early July, the Jewish pro-boycott activist Ariel Gold was denied entry into Israel. A law passed last year allows Israel to bar supporters of the BDS movement, which encourages boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.

“Now, it seems, the Knesset wants me to choose,” Beinart wrote in a 2017 column criticizing the entry law. “Either stop visiting Israel or stop opposing the occupation. In a variety of ways, that’s the deal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been offering American Jews for close to a decade now. Embrace Israel at the cost of your principles or embrace your principles at the cost of Israel.”

Former opposition leader and new Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog said that he had appealed to the Knesset to investigate the policy at the borders as long ago as May. “Unfortunately the damage to Israel’s reputation and the unnecessary uproar among the Jews of the Diaspora were caused for nothing,” he said.

US author Peter Beinart in Jerusalem on June 21, 2012. Beinart considers himself a supporter of Israel. (photo credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
US author Peter Beinart in Jerusalem on June 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Beinart, a frequent critic of Israel’s policies, said he arrived Sunday with his wife and two children to attend his niece’s bat mitzvah celebration, and that security officers at the airport flagged him for extra screening.

He was taken for questioning, where an official repeatedly asked him whether he was involved in organizations that could provoke violence, promote anarchy, or threaten Israeli democracy.

The interrogator also asked about a pro-Palestinian protest Beinart attended in Hebron during his last visit to Israel, according to the piece.

Beinart, a supporter of settlement boycotts, said he was never asked about that issue, and was not offered a legal basis for the detention.

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