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Photo: Gil Yohanan
Yuval Diskin (archive photo)
Photo: Gil Yohanan
Aviad Kleinberg
Who is being subversive?
Shin Bet chief's interpretation of law tantamount to subversion

In a letter relayed to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz Sunday, (with the contents coordinated with Mazuz in advance) Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin made it clear that that the Shin Bet's role is to protect the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel against subversive acts.

 

The Shin Bet security service deems itself authorized to tap telephone lines (as well as employing other reconnaissance apparatuses) in cases where subversive acts against the nature of the Jewish state are suspected, even if such activity is illegal.

 

The head of the Shin Bet does not oppose democracy. On the contrary, on behalf of the organization he grants Israeli citizens the right
to express themselves relatively freely. "There is no ban on expressing views that contradict the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, as long as this is done within the law. Such positions, as long as they don't entail illegal activity, are part of the freedom of speech. Even the right to privacy is part of a democratic state's basic values."

 

This is where the lesson in civic law ends. And now for the small letters: "Harming these rights is only permitted proportionately and for appropriate purposes." Guess who will decide what is proportionate and what is deemed an appropriate purpose? Precisely.

 

There is something very disturbing about one of Israel's most powerful security chiefs announcing that he is committed not only to the safety and security of the people, but also to its ideology - not the law, ideology – and that he reserves the right to act beyond the rule of law as he deems fit. Because from the moment the Shin Bet chief rules that it's not the dry text of the law that is his prime concern, but rather, something much vaguer such as "the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel," he is taking upon himself very broad authorities indeed.

 

It's difficult to define subversiveness. Similar to a counter-revolution in a people's democracy in the Eastern Bloc, it is a matter of association and temperament. In other words: It is a political matter. Is relieving oneself besides a statue of Stalin harming Soviet democracy? Of course. Is a statement that the prime minister is corrupt and despicable an act of subversiveness towards the State of Israel's nature of democracy? It depends who is making the statement.

 

The law determines that it is permissible; yet for the Shin Bet chief to make such a statement - that's not quite clear. For us the law is not final, he says; it is a starting point. Let him think about it. It depends on who is making the statements.

 

The Shin Bet chief has an "appropriate purpose" and he has the "proportionate" surveillance tools to help him think. Incidentally, let me guess who will be tracked and tapped. According to Diskin "the role and actions of the Shin Bet treat Jews and Arabs equally." I wonder why I don't buy this.

 

Shin Bet chief not above law

In establishments of power, vagueness is an existential threat - a threat to the democratic nature of the State of Israel. What is subversiveness? What is appropriate purpose? What is proportionate? Who decides?

 

When orders are not clear, when authorities are not defined, an opening for big trouble unlocks itself. Let's say your bank manager protects your money unless he feels there is good reason to make other proper and honest use of it. Would you sign such a contract? I hope not.

 

In a democratic country the law determines where to draw the red lines, and no one has the right to cross them. What is not prohibited is permissible. It’s that simple. Even the Shin Bet chief is not allowed to break the law.

 

If the Shin Bet chief believes that the law should be changed (the security services always feel that that they lack the freedom to act, and that civilians have too much freedom) he should say so just like any other citizen. Until then, the Shin Bet chief must not be allowed to be involved in subversive acts. He must abide by the law. No more and no less. I would expect the attorney general to make this point clear. 

 

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