Far-right backs extending administrative detentions to crime in Arab communities

Smotrich supports Otzma Yehudit proposal to extend administrative detention powers from military to Ben Gvir; Arab parties say government priorities are misplaced

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

File - Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (right) of the Religious Zionism party talks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)
File - Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (right) of the Religious Zionism party talks to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir of Otzma Yehudit at the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem, December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

Far-right coalition leaders Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir expressed their support on Monday for temporarily jailing suspects without charge or trial in order to clamp down on an ongoing wave of violent crime in Arab communities.

“We need to enable administrative detentions,” Smotrich said in response to a reporter’s question at the outset of his Religious Zionism party’s Knesset faction meeting.

“There needs to be a set of tools to enable the government to work,” including “unusual tools,” he added.

A day earlier, the far-right Otzma Yehudit party released a bill to give its chairman — National Security Minister Ben Gvir — the ability to authorize administrative detentions among a slew of other authorities.

Six months into 2023, 102 Arab citizens have lost their lives as a result of violent crime — a three-fold increase over the same period last year.

According to the Otzma Yehudit proposal, Ben Gvir would be able to approve renewable administrative detentions for up to six months for anyone whom the minister thinks poses a danger to the public if requested by the police commissioner and with the approval of the attorney general, the state prosecutor or one of their deputies.

Demonstrators take part in a protest against the killing of five Arab Israelis in the village of Yafa, west of Nazareth, on June 9, 2023. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The controversial practice of administrative detention, currently used by the defense minister against terror suspects, allows individuals to be held without charge for six months at a time, renewed indefinitely, while allowing military prosecutors to keep suspects from being able to see the evidence against them.

Administrative detention is primarily used with Palestinians — 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 suspects in recent years, though both Smotrich and Ben Gvir have come out against its employment in such cases.

The respective ministers also on Monday called to enlist the Shin Bet security service in the fight on crime in Arab communities.

“I’ve asked the Shin Bet to come in and investigate all of the murder cases in Arab society,” the Otzma Yehudit leader said in remarks to open his Knesset faction meeting on Monday.

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich similarly called for the Shin Bet and its resources to enter the fray, saying, “People are afraid to leave their homes today, and justifiably so.”

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backs the idea as well, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar warned that expanding the agency’s mandate to fighting crime would harm its ability to counter-terrorism.

Critics also warn that the enhanced measures used by the Shin Bet against Palestinians in the West Bank should not be used against Israeli citizens within the Green Line.

Ben Gvir added that his yet-to-be-enacted plan to establish a National Guard with 1,000 new police officers will help solve the violent crime problem, which he also blamed on his predecessors.

“They think the public’s memory is so short,” he said in comments directed at the previous police minister and his deputy, claiming some 1,800 police officers had quit under their watch. “You think we forgot.”

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a Religious Zionism faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Arab lawmakers have long railed against what they have called government ineptitude and lack of will to fight crime, much of it the result of organized criminal syndicates.

Senior Hadash-Ta’al lawmaker Ahmad Tibi on Monday slammed law enforcement and the government for its inability to stop the recent violent surge.

“The Israel Police can stop this fight between crime organizations, but it doesn’t invest the effort,” Tibi said at the beginning of his party’s Knesset faction meeting.

Ben Gvir, Tibi added, does not prioritize countering crime, as “he’s busy instead dealing with prisoner dental treatments and shower time” — two inmate living conditions that Ben Gvir tried to limit.

Ra’am party head Mansour Abbas leads his Knesset faction meeting, June 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas dismissed proposals to involve the Shin Bet in fighting crime in Arab communities, saying the idea is not feasible.

“It points to an attitude that doesn’t deal with the issue seriously,” he said.

Instead, Abbas demanded that the cabinet immediately deploy resources to combat crime in Arab society.

Opening his Islamist Arab party’s Knesset faction meeting, Abbas said he expects the government to adopt a cabinet decision next week “that puts this issue at the top of priorities for the government,” alongside manpower and funds to take action.

Two weeks ago, Ra’am sent Netanyahu a letter outlining requests to improve personal security. On Monday, Abbas said he “still hasn’t received any response.”

Earlier Monday, the government razed five illegally built homes in the Bedouin village of Ar’arat an-Naqab, located in the southern Negev region.

“What are the priorities? What’s burning for Netanyahu’s government, to destroy homes on this of all days?,” Abbas asked.

“We’re still licking our wounds,” the Ra’am chief added, saying that Arab society “feels abandoned” by the government.

Last week, Ra’am snubbed a Netanyahu-hosted meeting to discuss crime in Arab society, calling it a “show” and letting the premier sit down alone with Hadash-Ta’al.

Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al, the only two majority-Arab parties in the Knesset, are currently in a near-total communication breakdown.

National Unity party head MK Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 12, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Echoing this sentiment, National Unity leader Benny Gantz reiterated his call for Netanyahu to fire Ben Gvir.

“He doesn’t have the ability, he doesn’t have the required trust of the top echelons of the police and Arab society, and I don’t even know if he has the real desire to solve the problem,” Gantz charged. “The responsibility is too great – the situation is too serious.”

Similarly, Gantz dismisses the idea of enlisting the Shin Bet to fight Arab community crime as a “magic solution” that “is misleading the public.”

Rather, he said, “comprehensive, systemic work is needed” to solve the problem.

“The government should take pride in investing in Israel’s Arab citizens. In employment, infrastructure, education, and fighting crime. They deserve it by merit – not by grace,” he added, asking the government to establish a special cabinet to tackle Arab community crime.

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