Hardline MKs push bill to allow curbs on movement, speech based on ‘confidential intel’

Backers say legislation equips police with tools to fight organized crime; expert warns it risks ‘harsh infringements of very basic human rights’

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel leads the Knesset's National Security Committee meeting, in Jerusalem, February 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit MK Zvika Fogel leads the Knesset's National Security Committee meeting, in Jerusalem, February 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A controversial bill being prepared for an initial vote in the Knesset aims to allow district court judges to impose restrictions on citizens’ freedom of movement and expression on the basis of secret evidence “in order to prevent serious damage to a person’s safety or property.”

The legislation, which is being debated in the Knesset’s National Security Committee, was submitted by committee chairman Zvika Fogel of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party alongside lawmakers from the hawkish opposition faction Yisrael Beytenu.

It is intended to serve, say its backers, as a two-year temporary measure to enable law enforcement to deal with “a significant increase in the activity of organized crime in Israel,” especially in Arab communities.

If passed, the courts would be allowed to impose measures based on intelligence briefings by police that include “confidential intelligence material, visible evidence and any other material regarding the assessment that a person is active in a criminal organization,” along with the level of threat posed by the individual.

The bill would allow the police to deviate from the prevailing rules of evidence in presentations to the court, which its drafters admitted was “an unusual tool in which a judicial order is used to violate the rights of an individual, due to a forward-looking concern and in the absence of sufficient incriminating evidence regarding acts attributed to him in the past.”

Despite this, “there is an essential and immediate need to formulate additional effective tools that will be made available” to fight the rise in organized crime, the drafters argued in the bill’s explanatory notes.

Judges of the Jerusalem District Court take a seat for a hearing in the criminal trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, June 25, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

Among the options given to judges by the law are limiting a suspect’s time outside their home, prohibiting them from traveling to certain locations or communicating with certain people, stopping them from driving, and prohibiting travel abroad.

Moreover, police would be allowed to check the residences or vehicles of those subject to such orders, access their computers or even search their bodies.

“I have no problem giving the court the authority to issue an order that restricts the movement of a man who belongs to a criminal organization,” Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova, one of the legislation’s backers, told The Times of Israel this week.

“The purpose of the law is to provide tools to the police with the approval of the court in order to limit the activity of a person for whom there is clear intelligence of an intention to commit serious crimes” and “is supposed to enable an effective war against criminal organizations” that the police have so far been unable to handle, he added.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova. (Courtesy)

Asked if he believed there was any risk of the law being abused, Sova emphatically rejected the possibility.

“Not a chance. Because the police will be obliged to present the judge material that indicates a serious concern [that a suspect] belongs to a criminal organization,” he stated.

“The judge is not deciding on a conviction. He is issuing a restraining order. This order also has a limited period. There are conditions, but it is another tool that should help prevent crime. I trust the judges. That’s why I don’t see a concern here that someone might get hurt. The police will not come to court or ask for a restraining order for someone who was not at all known and not connected to the underworld,” he said.

Police detain a protester during a demonstration by relatives and supporters of the hostages held in Gaza in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2024 (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

But Guy Lurie, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said that while the need to equip police with tools to address rising crime is real, this “is a very dangerous path that the bill is taking because when we are in a crisis, we sometimes take actions that infringe on basic rights such as the right to due process.”

“I think that this bill is using measures in the field of anti-terrorist activities and applying them to the criminal field,” he continued, saying this creates problems in “protecting the rights of suspects and defendants.”

He added, “I would suggest a lot more caution when you break such new ground and you really risk harsh infringements of very basic human rights.”

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