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Authorizing the GSS to Join the Struggle Against Crime in Arab Society is Undemocratic


Protest against crime in Arab society
Protest against crime in Arab society. © Rndmst Dreamstime.com

On August 23, 2021, Haaretz reported that the Prime Minister supports authorizing the General Security Services (GSS) to act to eradicate crime in Arab localities. Following its publication, we urgently appealed to the Attorney General to oppose this dangerous idea and take it off the agenda. We noted that, when the GSS was authorized for contact tracing as a part of the struggle against the spread of COVID-19, we warned that this was a slippery slope that would lead to the government authorizing GSS services for additional civilian purposes. Even the proposal to authorize the GSS to act against crime constitutes further deterioration down this slope.


In the appeal, Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, Director of ACRI’s Civil and Social Rights Units, noted that the GSS has been granted extreme measures regarding the scope of their authority in violation of individual rights, solely because the GSS is a security organization focused on preventive security. The use of such tools for civilian issues, such as law enforcement or fighting crime, is not democratic. Rather than authorizing the GSS to do its own work, the police’s authority should be streamlined, within the framework of the law, to ensure citizens’ safety in the face of waves of crime.


The government’s growing temptation to use the GSS’s undemocratic measures for additional civilian matters, important as they may be, is immense. The involvement of the GSS in civilian matters blurs the lines and expands the gray areas between criminal activity and threats to national security. Thus, it is critical to establish clear boundaries in these cases. It can always be argued that those involved in criminal activity may be involved in activities related to security in the future, but this does not justify authorizing the GSS to operate against them. Additionally, the GSS operates in secret and without transparency. In a democracy, there is no room for “secret police” who have the ability to arrest, interrogate, and collect intelligence on people in secret without judicial oversight.


Attorney Gan-Mor noted that this is especially relevant in the case of using the GSS to fight crime in Arab communities, since it involves extreme, undemocratic measures against a minority group in the country and therefore intensifies concerns regarding violating individual rights. Moreover, it frames and presents social issues in the context of Arab society as “security problems,” which adversely impacts resolution of the problem. Crime in Arab communities is the result of decades of systemic neglect on behalf of Israeli governments in nearly every aspect, and it must be resolved on a civilian level through additional budgets, support, and development in the fields of education, employment, and personal security.


The Ministry of Justice responded on October 4, 2021, stating that the Attorney General agrees with ACRI's position that the GSS has no authority to act against crime, even if it is serious, and that there is currently no intention to expand its powers, contrary to the statements issued by the Prime Minister's Office. The response stated that the GSS will continue to operate only in the areas in which it is currently authorized and in which it routinely operates.


Update


On May 4, 2023, we appealed to members of the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs, requesting that they reject a bill seeking to authorize the General Security Services (GSS) to aid the police in combating crime. We claimed that the bill is anti-democratic for violating basic principles of the criminal procedure, and that it is racist and discriminatory as it deems Arab citizens a threat.

In the appeal, Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, Director of ACRI’s Civil and Social Rights Unit, noted that there is no doubt that rising crime in Arab society requires resolute action on behalf of enforcement authorities, yet this important cause cannot justify such severe violation of human rights and the creation of two enforcement systems – police for Jews and the GSS for Arabs.

Attorney Gan-Mor further insisted on the importance of clearly distinguishing between GSS activities – those of a secret body whose role is to thwart grave threats to state security or the foundations of the democratic regime – and police activity. To fulfill its duties, the GSS was granted powerful tools for ongoing monitoring and supervision, along with various means of investigation. These tools’ spillover and are used against citizens in the context of combating crime – no matter how dire – which entails disproportionate violation of civil liberties, the right to a fair trial, the right to privacy, and the capacity to maintain a society free of surveillance, and even proper democratic life.

About three months prior, we appealed to the Attorney General on the matter, following sections in the coalition agreements between the Likud, Jewish Power, and religious Zionist parties, our request focused on the intent to authorize the GSS to aid police in combating crime through use of Section 7(b)(6) of the GSS Law. We claimed that use of the section for this purpose is legally prohibited, and that the GSS should not be involved in combating crime through any other means.

In the past, there have already been calls among the political system to authorize the GSS to combat crime, and in August of 2021 we sent a similar appeal to the Attorney General at the time. On the basis of the Ministry of Justice’s response from October 4, 2021, it emerged that the Attorney General agreed with our position that the GSS is unauthorized to combat crime, even if dire, and that at that time there was no intention to expand its powers, contrary to the statements that emerged from the Prime Minister's Office. In October of 2021, a declaration was issued that the GSS will solely continue to function in the fields it is authorized to and routinely operates in.


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