Shin Bet chief to meet Arab municipal leaders over gang threats against candidates

Police chief and ministers Smotrich and Arbel, but not Ben Gvir, set to attend meeting on security of mayoral vote and candidates; Netanyahu mulls use of administrative detention

Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security agency, speaks at the annual Cyber Week event at Tel Aviv University, on June 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security agency, speaks at the annual Cyber Week event at Tel Aviv University, on June 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai were set to meet with Arab municipal heads on Sunday evening as candidates for upcoming municipal elections face threats from organized crime groups, amid a violent crime wave gripping the Arab community.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is withholding funds from Arab municipalities, and Interior Minister Moshe Arbel were also to take part in the meeting, the first of its kind.

Last week, the Kan public broadcaster reported that there were 15-20 Arab-majority municipalities where candidates and incumbents were being threatened by criminal organizations. Elections are set for October 31.

The Haaretz daily reported that Bar was set to tell the municipal heads that the Shin Bet will be involved in cases of attempts to harm election candidates, and to request that they cooperate with law enforcement.

Arbel was reportedly intending to inform the leaders that police officers would be stationed at polling stations in extreme cases where there is a fear of election interference.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is in charge of the police, was not invited to the meeting, officials involved in the matter told the Walla news site.

File: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir near the scene where one person died and a few were injured in a rockslide in Ein Gedi nature reserve, near the Dead Sea, on August 24, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

According to the report, Ben Gvir is opposed to holding such a meeting.

Ben Gvir campaigned on promises to beef up public safety and heads the ministry that oversees the police, but has been unable to stem the soaring crime wave.

He was widely panned last week for saying the “bigger threat” of the crime wave was that it could spill over into Jewish communities.

Opposition leaders have called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire the minister, who they say is not suited for the job.

Also on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would look into using the controversial tool of administrative detention in an attempt to prevent further deaths, at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

“The government of Israel is determined to fight criminal organizations in the Arab community. It is a blow to the country,” he said, adding that it may take several years, as did the government’s struggle against Jewish criminal organizations in the early 2000s.

Ben Gvir is seeking the power to impose administrative detention, which lets suspects be held without charge, trial, or access to classified evidence against them for renewable six-month terms. It is currently used as a tool to fight terrorism. About 1,000 Palestinians and a handful of Jewish Israelis are in custody under administrative detention, which requires the defense minister’s signature and the recommendation of the Shin Bet.

Protesters lift a banner denouncing crime that disproportionately affects Arab communities in Israel, during a demonstration against the government’s judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, August 26, 2023. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

According to the Abraham Initiatives anti-violence advocacy group, 157 members of Israel’s Arab community have been killed since the start of the year, mostly in shootings. During the same time frame last year, 71 were killed.

This past week saw several fatal shootings, including a quadruple homicide in the northern town of Abu Snan on Tuesday, and the murder of Tira’s municipal director on Monday.

On Sunday morning, a man later identified as Ali Abu Saleh was shot dead while driving between his hometown of Sakhnin and Arraba.

The killings are part of a violent crime wave that has engulfed the Arab community in recent years. Many community leaders blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence. They also point to decades of neglect and discrimination by government offices as the root cause of the problem.

Protests against the coalition’s judicial overhaul Saturday night highlighted the violent crime wave, with Tira’s Mayor Mamoun Abd al-Hay attending the main rally at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street.

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