Photo Credit: MK Ofir Sofer's Facebook
MK Ofir Sofer (Religious Zionism).

The Knesset plenum on Wednesday approved in a preliminary reading a bill to increase the punishment for agricultural crime, enabling the courts for the first time to confiscate property and money belonging to defendants convicted of theft of produce or agricultural property.

The bill, an initiative of MK Ofir Sofer (Religious Zionism), adds a vital economic component to the fight against crime. Should it pass, it would allow law enforcement to confiscate the offenders’ property at the value of the stolen property and hit their pockets directly. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority of 41 to 5, and was supported by the coalition Yamina party.

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The explanatory notes that accompany the bill say: “Agricultural crime has become a scourge causing much damage to farmers and agriculture in general. These crimes are manifested in damage to agricultural equipment and property, theft, vandalism, arson, smuggling of animals, and more – actions that, in addition to harming the farmers’ livelihood, damage the general and personal sense of security on the part of the farmers, who are required to risk their lives physically protecting their land.”

A few months ago, at the request of MK Sofer, the Knesset’s Research and Information Center published alarming figures regarding agricultural crime. Following these findings, MK Sofer submitted his bill to confiscate property from criminals who committed an agricultural crime. The bill received the support of the Ministerial Legislation Committee, which virtually guaranteed its passing in the plenum. The bill will now be taken up by the Internal Security Committee headed by MK Merav Ben Ari (Yesh Atid) who initially endorsed Sofer’s bill.

The bill’s initial author, MK Sofer, issued a statement saying: “It’s a great privilege for me that my first law to pass in the Knesset plenum should deal with agricultural crime and assisting farmers. As someone who grew up and lives in an agricultural moshav in Galilee, I am familiar with the phenomenon of agricultural crime, which has become a scourge of the state and constitutes deliberate harm to farmers.”

“The clear goal of the criminals is to instill fear and take over strategic areas in the Negev and Galilee,” Sofer said. “To safeguard our agriculture and provide security to farmers, we must increase the enforcement and punishment against offenders. I welcome the passage of the law and thank the Justice Minister for his cooperation and support for the bill and look forward to its speedy promotion in the Internal Security Committee.”

A former senior state attorney who was involved in drafting the law told Makor Rishon: “Until now, you could only confiscate as part of the punishment from someone who stole a ton of avocados only a tool used to carry out theft, such as the battered vehicle he drove. Under the new law, the court would be able to confiscate not only the car but also unrelated property and equipment.”

However, the same former official admitted that “the thief’s chances of being caught and prosecuted are still low, but the new law creates at least a new ‘balance of terror’ that makes the theft less worthwhile.”

Do you want to know how bad things are in that area of law enforcement in Israel? According to the Knesset’s Research and Information Center, responding to MK Sofer’s request, between 2016 and 2019, 3,815 investigation cases were opened following complaints of agricultural crime. Of these, 3,283 (86%) were shelved and only 343 reached conviction (9%). On top of that, those convictions are punished lightly, practically encouraging agri-criminals to repeat their crimes. As a result, it is estimated that only 20% of the agri-crimes are reported to police by the victims.

Maybe the new law would give hope to the remaining 80% of the victims.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.