Over 400 ex-Shin Bet agents urge Likud minister Dichter to abandon judicial overhaul

Security service veterans warn former agency chief, now agriculture minister, that legislation is ‘coup’ against democracy; among signatories, 3 other past leaders of organization

Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 8, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 8, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Hundreds of former Shin Bet security service agents sent a letter Tuesday to Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, a former chief of the agency, urging him to not back the government’s plan for a drastic overhaul of the judiciary and warning it will threaten the foundations of Israel’s democracy.

Among the 460 veterans who put their names to the letter were three other past Shin Bet directors, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, and Yuval Diskin.

The letter came the day after the Knesset passed a first reading of some parts of the controversial legislation that will give the government control over the selection of court judges, and enable the Knesset to pass laws even if they are struck down by the High Court of Justice.

“We, the people of the shadows, who were shaped in the light of the values of statehood, modesty, and restraint of power, find it difficult to stay in the shadows and stand aside in the face of the events that are shaking Israeli society these days,” the letter said.

It recalled that Dichter, who led the Shin Bet in 2000-2005, had backed the so-called Shin Bet Law in 2002 “which states, among other things, that the service is charged with maintaining state security and maintaining the order of the democratic regime and its institutions against various threats.”

“We see the legislation’s intentions to weaken the judiciary as a coup against the rules of the democratic regime,” the letter’s signatories said. “We turn to you and ask — do not lend your hand to moves that threaten the foundations of the democratic regime, the unity of the people, and national resilience.”

In recent years, Gillon, Ayalon, and Diskin have all backed political movements that opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Dichter is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party.

A broad and vocal chorus of criticism stretching from the judiciary through civil society and the business community has warned that the overhaul moves will essentially shackle Israel’s democratic system of checks and balances. Meanwhile, foreign allies have expressed worries that the moves could leave minority rights unprotected, and the business community has warned that the turmoil could sour the investment environment in Israel.

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