Far-right minister: AG torpedoing arrests of crime bosses

Shin Bet said set to oppose bill granting Ben Gvir administrative detention power

Police and attorney general also expected to oppose proposal allowing detention of Israeli citizens for six months without trial amid wave of Arab community killings

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (left) at a conference in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2023, and Ronen Bar (right), head of the Shin Bet security agency speaks at a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, September 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel; Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (left) at a conference in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2023, and Ronen Bar (right), head of the Shin Bet security agency speaks at a conference at the Reichman University in Herzliya, September 11, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel; Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Shin Bet, police and attorney general are all expected to oppose a far-right proposal for legislation that would allow the administrative detention of Israeli citizens, according to reports in Hebrew media Saturday.

Officials are set to present their position Sunday during a meeting of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation that will deal with the bill, according to reports in Ynet and Walla news.

The bill, proposed by Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Tzvika Fogel, would authorize National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir or police chief Kobi Shabtai to arrest Israeli citizens and keep them in custody without a trial.

Otzma Yehudit says the highly controversial bill is necessary in order to combat a wave of killings in the Arab community that has claimed the lives of 103 people dead in 2023 so far, nearly triple the 35 slayings recorded to this point last year.

The controversial practice of administrative detention, currently used by the defense minister against terror suspects, has individuals held without charge for up to six months at a time. The detentions can be renewed indefinitely while allowing military prosecutors to keep suspects from being able to see the evidence against them.

According to the proposal, Ben Gvir would be able to approve renewable administrative detentions for up to six months for anyone the minister thinks poses a danger to the public, if the move is requested by the police commissioner and with the approval of the attorney general, the state attorney or one of their deputies.

Aside from the expanded powers to jail citizens, the bill grants the minister power to act alone, under certain circumstances, in ordering restrictions on where a person can live or visit, limit who they can speak to, forbid them from using the internet, and place curbs on what they can purchase or what services they are allowed to receive or actions they are allowed to perform.

Administrative detention is primarily used with Palestinians — about 1,000 of whom are currently held in custody under the practice. The practice has also been used with a handful of Jewish Israeli terror suspects in recent years, though Ben Gvir and other far-right leaders have come out against its employment in such cases.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at the Israel Police Independence Day ceremony at the National Headquarters of the Israel Police in Jerusalem, April 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

In a legal opinion sent to Justice Minister Yariv Levin Thursday, the State Attorney’s Office said: “This bill — similar to other initiatives being considered these days — constitutes a dramatic change to world order in criminal enforcement in Israel, and also presents a deep and fundamental threat to the democratic character of the country.”

The “other initiatives” appeared to refer to the coalition’s controversial plans to shackle the country’s judiciary.

“The administrative arrest of a person presumed to be innocent — without sufficient evidence, without reasonable suspicion that a criminal offense was committed and while relying only on intelligence information about future and abstract suspicions, and without a time limit — constitutes a fatal violation of the right to freedom and dignity,” it said.

Since his appointment as national security minister, Ben Gvir has sought to exercise more direct control over police operations and personnel, including a botched attempt to remove the Tel Aviv police commander, and has pushed to expand his powers, in moves critics say tamper with the independence of the police.

The bill is said to be part of efforts to combat crime in the Arab community.

Composite photo: Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, left, during a faction meeting at the Knesset on November 21, 2022; Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks at Tel Aviv University on September 28, 2022. (Flash90)

Saturday’s reports drew a fierce response from Ben Gvir, who accused Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara of refusing to authorize the arrests of senior organized crime figures allegedly behind some of the recent murders.

“The attorney general’s objection to administrative arrests of senior crime organization figures in the Arab sector is outrageous,” he said. “A month ago, the police filed a request for administrative detention for several top figures in big crime groups, some of whom have been personally involved in murders that could have been prevented had the attorney general not torpedoed their arrests.

“The ease in which the attorney general authorizes administrative detention for [Jewish] teenagers suspected of disturbances in Huwara, versus her objection to the administrative arrest of mafia bosses with blood on their hands, is irresponsible,” he added.

Ben Gvir, who ran on a tough-on-crime platform, has faced intense criticism over rising terror attacks and a sharp jump in murders in Israel’s Arab communities.

Many Arab community leaders blame the police, who they say have failed to crack down on powerful criminal organizations and largely ignore the violence, which includes family feuds, mafia turf wars, and violence against women. The communities have also suffered from years of neglect by state authorities.

The head of a police unit tasked with fighting crime among Arab Israelis, Deputy Commissioner Natan Bozna, resigned on Tuesday. No reason for the departure was given by Bozna or the force, and the police did not announce a replacement.

The announcement came a day after Ben Gvir said he would appoint a policy coordinator to help address the rampant bloodshed.

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