Aharonovich’s Patriot Act?

Public Security Minister didn’t hide his grin on Saturday night. Speaking to Rina Matzliah on Ch 2 just before the 8pm news hour, he said police had arrested a top organized crime leader, and that more of the same was soon to follow.

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Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich at the site of last week’s car bomb in Tel Aviv (photo: Ben Hartman)

He wouldn’t confirm that police had arrested Shalom Domrani, but it was already widely-known and by the time the papers closed Saturday night, the arrest of the southern mob boss was splashed across the front pages of the country’s papers.

Aharanovich said something else however that was lost in the fray – that he would use all tools at his disposal to fight organized crime, including the use of “administrative detentions”.

“In a war you use all of the tools. There are tools I have requested – budget increases and to allow the police to use administrative detentions.”

Administrative detention is the indefinite detention without formal trial or regular charges, used in Israel for terrorists considered security threats, with the argument that presenting them with the case against them could jeopardize state security. They have never been used to date to fight domestic crime, where suspects must be brought to trial and can only be detained for set periods of time determined by court. Administrative detention is controversial, and for good reason.

The statement came in the wake of a car bomb two days earlier that targeted a Tel Aviv prosecutor, who was not in the vehicle when the explosive was detonated. Like after the two recent car bombs in Ashkelon, public statements made by Aharonovich and other Israeli leaders described such acts as terrorism and the organizations responsible as “terror groups”, that must be dealt with as such.

Two days after his original statement, Aharonovich repeated his call for administrative detentions, saying at the Journalists Association’s conference in Eilat that our intention is to take them [criminals] off the street. I need to worry about the citizens and not about them [criminals].”

“This is a war and we will win this war,” he added.

During the same remarks he spoke about how he expects the prime minster to spur the Shin Bet to help investigate the Tel Aviv car bomb, and use the technology at their disposal, which they have so far been reluctant to do so as to not jeopardize exposing such technologies and methods in court.

Police Commissioner Yochanan Danino, for his part, spoke about how he hopes the Knesset will expand current regulations on search and seizure laws, in order to free up police operations from further legal constraints.

Even though the actual number of mob hits is lower so far this year (8) than the 12 that took place in 2012, its undeniable that there is a growing feeling in Israel that organized crime gangs are flexing their muscles, taking their battles to the streets with little concern for the law or innocent bystanders. The targeting of the Tel Aviv prosecutor was just the latest example of such brazenness.

Still, how’s the saying go, in war, you know where and how to start it, but not how it will end?

It’s easy for the public to support such strong-arm moves if they think they’ll only be used against guys like Domrani or Amir Mulner, but does it ever really stop there? Who’s to say that certain young men, maybe who’ve got priors, maybe who are in the wrong neighborhood with the wrong friends, might also find themselves scooped up without charge and locked up indefinitely, part of the new war on the new terror: organized crime. Furthermore, as much as they are a menace, is right for our police leaders to decide that people like Domrani don’t have rights in our society?

In all likelihood the Justice Ministry, the Attorney General, and the courts will not allow such legal changes to go into effect and what we are seeing is grand-standing by Israel’s top cops in the face of public distress, posturing that will most likely disappear if in the coming weeks organized crime is no longer a major part of the news cycle.

Still, the proposition is troubling, and the ease with which such proposals are made and fall on deaf ears, should be cause for concern.

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