Netanyahu defends Shin Bet amid right-wing criticism over Jewish terror probe

PM and president back security agency, which has faced accusations it is mistreating teen suspects in stoning death of Palestinian woman; Likud MK compared agency to KGB

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said there were no grounds for criticism of the Shin Bet security service, expressing his backing of an organization under fire for alleged mistreatment of several Jewish teens arrested recently in the deadly stoning of a Palestinian woman.

After praising the Shin Bet and other security forces for the early morning capture of a suspected Palestinian terrorist, Netanyahu said the agency is the “best terror-thwarting organization in the world.”

“We owe it a lot; it does its work with professionalism and dedication,” he said, then added, apparently in reference to criticism of the Shin Bet’s handling of the suspected Jewish terrorists,  “There is no place for attacks on it.”

Netanyahu’s remarks came a day after a lawmaker from his own Likud party said the Shin Bet was using “KGB investigation methods” and “torturing Jewish boys” as it probes the October 12 stoning death of Aisha Rabi in the West Bank. The suspects’ attorneys have also alleged their clients are being tortured in an effort to force them to confess to the crime.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, right, and President Reuven Rivlin at a swearing in ceremony for newly appointed judges and court registrars held at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on January 8, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin also gave his unwavering support to the agency and warned against careless criticism of its methods.

“There is no democracy without criticism, even of our most necessary institutes,” Rivlin said Tuesday at a ceremony for the swearing-in of 29 new judges and court registrars at his official residence in Jerusalem. “But we must be wary of irresponsible attacks on people whose job it is to guard and protect Israel’s security at home and abroad.

“I know the people in the [Shin Bet] service, and the welfare of the State of Israel and its citizens is the only thing that they care about… I would like to support the state’s servants in all the security branches and the Shin Bet in particular, who save lives day and night, allowing us and our children to sleep peacefully.”

Also at the ceremony was Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who on Monday met with the families of the five Jewish teens arrested last week on suspicion of involvement in the deadly stoning.

The five are suspected of throwing stones at Palestinian cars, leading to the death of Rabi, a mother of eight, when a rock came through the windshield of the car she was traveling in with her husband and daughter.

A car belonging to a Palestinian couple is seen after it was involved in a deadly crash reportedly due to stone-throwing by Israeli settlers at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank on October 12, 2018. (Zachariah Sadeh/Rabbis for Human Rights); Aisha Muhammad Talal Rabi (Courtesy)

On Sunday Likud MK Nava Boker wrote in a tweet that “when Jewish youths are suspected of throwing stones, suddenly they are subjected KGB investigation methods. It would be better if the Shin Bet spent its time trying to prevent murderous Palestinian terror and not torturing Jewish boys.”

The Shin Bet and the IDF routinely arrest, detain and imprison Palestinian stone-throwers, many of them children.

With court approval, the Israeli suspects were initially denied access to their lawyers, who have alleged that the security service was torturing them to obtain a confession. The Shin Bet denied the allegation.

The service said Sunday that “its interrogations are carried out according to the law and are subject to the supervision of the State Attorney’s Office.”

Acknowledging that it had barred the suspects from meeting with their attorneys, the Shin Bet pointed out that it was a step “taken from time to time, against both Arab and Jewish suspects… in serious terror acts” and that the Lod District Court had signed off on the measure.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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