(August 20, 2018 / JNS)
My client, Shay, was in shock. For years, he had served in the Israel Defense Forces as a regular soldier and as a reservist. He was part of a Nahal Brigade garin—a group of soldiers who combine military service with time on a kibbutz, and did everything he was supposed to do as a loyal citizen.
Then, suddenly, it seems someone in the Shin Bet security agency denied him security clearance, forcing him to leave his new job as an air-traffic controller at Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Over the next few months, this fine young man from Mevasseret Zion, outside Jerusalem, was forced to search for employment elsewhere, until I sent a warning letter on his behalf. Then, in a flash, he was notified that his security clearance had been approved, and he could return to work.
The past week has seen a public brouhaha around the Shin Bet’s questioning of leftists arriving at the airport, but the agency’s treatment of activists on the right has long since crossed all boundaries. Their freedom of expression is restricted, they are threatened, and now it appears that their families can be targeted, too—but the civil-rights warriors are silent. Democracy’s famous “slippery slope” suddenly becomes very solid ground when it comes to the rights of right-wingers.
It does not bother the human-rights groups that every month, dozens of right-wing activists are summoned for questioning and warnings that have no legal basis. One youth who was called in was asked to stop airing his views on Facebook and told: “It will just get you in trouble. Why do it?”
We should tell the truth: Some of the people receiving warnings express themselves harshly on social media, and their opinions are infuriating.
But if someone crosses a line, the police are welcome to indict him or her. The Shin Bet must not try to influence people’s opinions, and certainly not by threatening right-wing activists for commonly held views. Dozens of right-wingers were warned to keep away from the last Gay Pride Parade in Jerusalem. We asked ourselves what would the media have done if there had been similar discussions prior to the Israeli Arabs’ demonstration in Rabin Square against the nation-state law.
Not a peep is heard from the civil-rights knights when it comes to the persecution of Benzi Gopstein, chairman of the group Lehava, which strives to prevent Jewish assimilation. All indictments against Gopstein thus far have ended with him being acquitted. This doesn’t keep the Shin Bet from not only threatening Lehava activists, but also visiting the religious schools, pre-military academies and yeshivas where Gopstein is scheduled to speak and meeting with the directors of these institutions to explain why such a controversial figure should not be invited to speak there. Switch out Gopstein’s name with that of New Israel Fund in Israel director Mickey Gitzin or Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence, and you can imagine what a scandal it would create.
But beyond the well-known hypocrisy of the media and the public’s discriminatory attitude towards those on the right compared to those on the left, we should also address the conduct of the Shin Bet itself. The Shin Bet is vital to the State of Israel if it wants to stay alive, but its mandate is to defend the country against threats of terrorism, subversion, espionage and the exposure of state secrets. The opinions of civilians, whatever they may be, are not a reason to shut people up.
Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir is a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party.