Photo: Amit Shabi
AG to further examine reasons for American-Jewish critic's questioning at Ben Gurion Airport
Avichai Mandelblit’s decision comes after 1-hour detention of Peter Beinart upon landing in Israel sparked a minor uproar; legal officials says distinction has to be drawn between Shin Bet's authority to intervene in political and terror-related matters.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said on Tuesday that he intends to look further into the reasons why the prominent Jewish-American critic of Israel, Peter Beinart, was detained for an hour on Monday evening after landing at Ben Gurion Airport by Shin Bet agents for political questioning.
Mandelblit launched the probe on the matter following public criticism leveled against the Shin Bet in the aftermath of the incident, despite apologies by the agency and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what was described as an administrative mistake. Mandelblit’s inquiry also came in response to appeals by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
Judicial sources noted that Shin Bet rules specifically outline the importance of the agency for the preservation of democracy in Israel, but emphasized the need for proportionality and the fact that its discretion does not include involvement in political discourse.
The Association for Civil Rights appealed to the High Court of Justice (HCJ) in 2013 against the authority of the Shin Bet to question social and political activists under caution.
A year-and-a-half ago, HCJ judges determined that the questioning by the Shin Bet of such activists does fall within its remit, but also laid down binding rules on the matter.
Two weeks ago, the Association for the High Court of Justice filed an appeal due to two incidents in which people were stopped and questioned under caution.
The association demanded that the Shin Bet observe standard procedures and instructions provided by the judges regarding the exceptional cases who determined that the Shin Bet was authorized to hold discussions under caution only.
At the same time, the association also approached Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber and the legal advisor to the Population Authority asking them to instruct border control inspectors that they do not have the authority to detain Israeli civilians entering Israel at the request of the Shin Bet or for any other reason. They also asked that they be told that the only legal justification for detaining foreigners would be ensuring that they are lawfully entering Israel.
Attorney Col. Liron Libman (res.), a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute and a former head of the IDF's international law department said after the Beinart incident that “a distinction must be drawn between questioning to prevent terror and ensuring security on planes, and questioning people who oppose the policies of the state of Israel.
“Delegitimization is denying the State of Israel’s right to exist, not a protest against this or that policy by the government,” he said.
“The officials who say that we need to fight against the phenomenon of delegitimization are PR officials. The authority of the Shin Bet and its resources cannot be used to deal with issues that do not constitute a real threat to security,” he continued, adding that the events involving Beinart “require a clarification and new thinking about the Shin Bet policy and the parts of its authority in dealing with issues such as these in Israel.”
Beinart published an article in the “Forward” entitled “I was detained at Ben Gurion Airport because of my beliefs” after the incident.
“We flew to Israel for my niece’s Bat Mitzvah, where I was detained and interrogated about my political activities at Ben Gurion airport,” Beinart wrote.