Senior law enforcement and security officials agreed to establish a joint task force that will examine how the Shin Bet security service can assist in the fight against criminal organizations, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s office announced Thursday.
Ben Gvir has long pushed for the Shin Bet’s involvement in combating crime, particularly in Arab communities where deadly violence has claimed many lives in recent years. The Shin Bet is generally tasked only with fighting nationalistically-motivated crime and many Arab leaders oppose the agency’s involvement in domestic matters.
Haaretz reported Thursday that senior officials in the Shin Bet vehemently oppose the agency’s involvement in the fight against criminal organizations, worrying that it might not even be legal to employ the tools it uses in the fight against Palestinian terror on civilian members of Israel’s Arab communities and that it could be harmful to do so.
But Ben Gvir and others maintain that the police alone have been unable to clamp down on growing violence throughout Arab communities and that more extreme measures are needed. His far-right Otzma Yehudit party had a clause included in its coalition agreement with Likud stating that the government will direct the Shin Bet to assist police in combating crime in Arab communities.
To advance that effort, Ben Gvir met Thursday with Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and the sides agreed to form a task force made up of police, Shin Bet and Justice Ministry officials who will examine how the security agency can partake in the effort.
The Abraham Initiatives, which monitors and campaigns against violence in the Arab community, tallied 116 Arabs killed in apparent homicides in Israel in 2022. In 2021, 125 Arabs were killed in Israel in community violence — an all-time record, topping what had previously been the all-time high of 96, set in 2020.
Community leaders blame longstanding neglect by the government and a failure by police to properly investigate criminal incidents as they do in Jewish towns. Nonetheless, they’ve pushed back against the approach of Ben Gvir, a former disciple of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane with a long history of anti-Arab rhetoric.
The coalition deal with the Likud agreeing to the formation of a division in the Shin Bet security agency dedicated to tackling crime in Arab communities was reported last month, drawing fierce criticism from inside Arab society.
Mohammad Barakeh, head of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, a top panel of Arab community leaders, said in December: “What is required is that the police fulfill its role like every police force in the world and apprehend criminals. The way the police operate in Jewish cities is the way it should operate in Arab society,” he said.