Proposal to be discussed by Knesset panel on Sunday

State attorney: Ben Gvir’s administrative detention bill a threat to democracy

Legal officials urge Justice Minister Yariv Levin to shoot down legislation, which would give national security minister power to okay holding suspects without trial

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Jerusalem district police chief Doron Turgeman at a meeting in Jerusalem, June 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Jerusalem district police chief Doron Turgeman at a meeting in Jerusalem, June 15, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The State Attorney’s Office has said a bill proposed this week to allow for the administrative detention of citizens in a bid to fight crime in Arab communities presents a “threat to democracy.”

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

The Knesset legislative committee was set to discuss Sunday the proposed legislation from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party that would allow the temporary jailing of suspects without charge or trial in order to clamp down on the violent crime wave, the Haaretz daily reported.

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.

The letter calls on Levin to immediately reject the bill.

The bill would give Otzma Yehudit chairman and National Security Minister Ben Gvir the ability to authorize administrative detentions, among a slew of other authorities.

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

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.

The legal feasibility of employing administrative detention to fight crime is unclear. Ben Gvir has already clashed with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara for blocking several of his initiatives.

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.

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 since late December that has left 102 people dead in 2023 so far, nearly triple the 35 slayings recorded to this point last year.

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.

Demonstrators carry a banner bearing pictures of five Arab Israelis who were shot dead a day earlier, as they protest against their killing in the village of Yafa, west of Nazareth, on June 9, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

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.

On Sunday, he reportedly joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in pushing for the Shin Bet security service to get involved in fighting crime. The security agency has taken a stance against the proposal; its leader Ronen Bar has reportedly sought to convince politicians that doing so would distract from the Shin Bet’s main task of fighting terror.

Senior officials in the Shin Bet have also reportedly expressed worries that they may not have the legal authority to employ tools used in the fight against Palestinian terror on civilians instead.

Last week, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told a Knesset committee that the force was unprepared for a “multi-front” outbreak of violence across the country such as the rioting and ethnic clashes that accompanied a 2021 Gaza war, pointing to a lack of “manpower, resources, means and equipment” that he said was preventing police from “rising to the occasion.”

On Thursday, Hebrew media reported that Ben Gvir will not extend Shabtai’s term as police chief, set to end in January, for a fourth year, citing an official from the minister’s office.

Last week, Channel 12 reported that Ben Gvir lashed out at Shabtai during a call between the two and suggested the police chief was not doing enough to combat the crime wave.

Shabtai is said to have responded that many resources have been poured into securing the anti-government demonstrations since January and fighting an ongoing wave of terror attacks in recent months.

Most Popular
read more: