Ben Gvir says he doesn’t want Shin Bet’s ‘advice’ on fighting crime, only its tools

Police minister makes remark in response to report that his ministry hasn’t taken up security agency’s offer to supply advisers for countering violent crime wave in Arab community

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party said Saturday that he was “not asking for advice” from the Shin Bet on the unrelenting crime wave gripping the Arab community, and was instead looking to deploy the internal security agency’s advanced anti-terror tools against Israeli criminal suspects.

The far-right police minister was responding to a Channel 12 report Saturday night that the Shin Bet had put together a plan for a committee of ex-operatives who would work with the police and share their experiences in fighting terror organizations. According to the report, Ben Gvir’s National Security Ministry did not move ahead with the plan, which remains solely a proposal.

Ben Gvir, who ran on a tough-on-crime platform, has faced intense criticism over a sharp jump in murders in Israel’s Arab communities since the beginning of the year that a watchdog says has left 123 people dead so far, over twice the tally at this point last year, and already more than the total fatalities for 2022. Organized crime is believed to be the catalyst for the vast majority of the slayings.

In a statement quoted by the network, Ben Gvir’s office said that the ministry “very much appreciates that the Shin Bet wants to contribute its good advice, but Minister Ben Gvir is not asking for advice. [He] insists on receiving the tools, the capabilities and the advanced technology that the Shin Bet has. No one will fool the minister with another committee of people who in two years’ time will recommend some activity or another.”

Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed authorities to prepare for the security agency to become involved in crime-fighting, despite reported objections from the Shin Bet’s chief and the attorney general.

In Saturday’s statement, Ben Gvir’s office said the Shin Bet was “looking for excuses on why it is not helping in the effort to stop crime in the Arab community.”

“The head of the Shin Bet hinted to me that if I don’t stop demanding their intervention, I will hear about it in the media. The conduct of the head of the Shin Bet is not responsible, but I will continue to demand that they intervene not only in a committee and in advice, but also in actions,” the statement read.

The Shin Bet is known to operate advanced surveillance and tracking technologies but is wary about applying them for anything other than anti-terror activities.

The security agency has taken a stance against being directly involved in countering crime; its leader Ronen Bar has reportedly sought to convince politicians that doing so would distract from the Shin Bet’s main task of fighting terror.

Senior officials in the Shin Bet have also reportedly expressed worries that they may not have the legal authority to employ tools used in the fight against Palestinian terror on civilians instead.

Also Saturday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reportedly sounded the alarm against a bill that would grant Ben Gvir the ability to order criminal suspects detained indefinitely without trial, among other expanded powers, slamming the legislation as a potential security threat.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Administrative detention is primarily used with Palestinian terror suspects — about 1,000 of whom are currently held in custody under the practice. The practice has also been used with a handful of Jewish Israeli terror suspects in recent years, though Ben Gvir and other far-right leaders have come out against its employment in such cases.

The legal feasibility of employing administrative detention to fight crime is unclear.

Last week, six members of the Arab community were shot dead in separate incidents in less than two days.

Many Arab community leaders blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women. The communities have also complained about years of neglect by state authorities.

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