Daily Israel Report

Cabinet Approves "Big Brother" Unit

The Cabinet has approved the establishment of a special Justice Ministry unit to combat incitement and perceived disruptions to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan.
First Publish: 2/28/2005, 3:06 PM / Last Update: 2/27/2005, 7:22 PM

The unit is the idea of Justice Minister Tzippy Livni, who wants to ensure that the process of prosecuting protesters is streamlined, ahead of the expected mass opposition to the disengagement plan. The country is deeply split on the issue of the withdrawal from Gaza and northern Shomron and the forced removal of the Jewish residents living there.

The Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza) Council criticized the establishment of the new unit, calling it the "thought police.” The Council said that the purpose of the new body is to "shut the mouths of those who are opposed to the expulsion plan, and to brand them inciters. [Its purpose is to] forbid us to think differently than the government. The democratic right to protest is slowly disappearing in face of the ‘sanctified’ disengagement plan."

Yesterday's government decision stipulates that the unit will be responsible for “legal proceedings against incidents of incitement to violence, rebellion and protest activities - including blocking roads, holding unauthorized demonstrations and threats against public servants - in the context of the struggle against the disengagement.”

Shabak (General Security Services) chief Avi Dichter told the Cabinet that administrative detention - incarceration without trial for up to six months - of anti-withdrawal activists should not yet be employed.

Dichter presented the Cabinet with samples of threatening letters and bumper stickers. He said that these showed the extent of the physical danger to the Prime Minister. Sharon said, in turn, that he is not afraid "personally," but that the issue of right-wing incitement must be dealt with.

The Land of Israel Action Committee responded with fury to Dichter's examples and to the establishment of the new unit. "All the examples that Dichter brought emanate from provocations created by the Shabak and police," said movement head Aviad Visouly. He called upon Attorney-General Mazuz to put all the heads of right-wing groups on trial for incitement, saying that the courts, and not the police, must set, once and for all, the explicit guidelines as to where the borders of freedom of expression lie.

The new unit will combat anti-disengagement protests and demonstrations, and will work in coordination with the Shabak to deter activists from engaging in mass civil disobedience.

Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz explained to the Cabinet yesterday that if the ministers expect action against right-wing inciters, the law must be changed accordingly. He explained that the incitement law in its current form allows political expression to be prosecuted as illegal only if it "has a real possibility of leading to violence." Mazuz said, "If you want us to act, then change the law."

Activist Barch Marzel of Hevron, who heads the newly-founded Jewish National Front, suggested sarcastically that Deputy State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan – the appointed head of the legal team for the new unit – ask for the death penalty, or at least life imprisonment, when punishing anti-government activists. "When in a dictatorship, act like you're in a dictatorship," Marzel said. “If someone can be called in by the police for calling Sharon a dictator, then punishments like that can easily be next."

In a related item, Police Chief Moshe Karadi announced the opening of an official inquiry into the activities of the speakers and participants in last Thursday's anti-disengagement gathering in Jerusalem. The protest was organized by Chabad.