Having already lost two battles in the Knesset plenum this week – the regulation bill for Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and the vote to reinstate Matan Kahana (Yamina) as Minister of Religious Services (Bennett Must Decide How to Punish MK Silman Who Killed Kahana’s Appointment), the Lapid-Bennett coalition, represented by its currently angriest senior member, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope) is girding its loins for a run up another harsh hill: a bill to absolve police of the need for a warrant in some search and seizure emergencies.
Sometimes you get the feeling civil rights are a kind of luxury in our Jewish State…
As a rule, in a democracy, it is customary for police searches of private homes or businesses to be conducted based on a court order, after a judge examined the necessity of the search and concluded that the public interest in issuing the order outweighs the right to privacy of the property owner. Otherwise, we fear those police officers would abuse the enormous power to walk into our homes and businesses and infringe on our right to privacy arbitrarily and disproportionately.
So why does the minister we appointed to safeguard our civil rights want to send a bunch of cops into our homes without even the most elementary supervision? You probably guessed it – national security. So many crimes against individuals’ rights have been committed everywhere in the Western world in the name of national security, especially after September 11, 2001, when the Bush administration allowed known Islamist terrorists to take flying lessons without staying in class for the section about landing.
Already today the Criminal Procedure Ordinance gives police officers in some cases the authority to enter private buildings without a court order in cases of a crime in progress, or to capture an escaped criminal, make that an escaped terrorist.
The government is now asking the Knesset to add additional grounds for the search without a court order, most notably when there’s an immediate need to seize evidence of a serious crime, and without urgent action on the ground, should police officers have to wait until a judge approves the search, the evidence might be destroyed or disappear.
The bill is a product of the Lapid-Bennett government’s commitment to take more vigorous measures than before against serious crime in Arab society. According to the government, expanding search powers is essential to improving the police’s ability to solve crimes committed in Arab localities. If the cops are first on location to pick up incriminating evidence, before the murderers or robbers had a chance to eliminate them, this could go a long way toward reducing Arab crime.
But do we, as a democratic society, want fighting Arab crime to come at the expense of Arabs’ civil rights? And when do the same cops start banging down the doors of wanted Jewish citizens?
Meretz MK Gaby Lasky will likely vote against the bill, and there will be others. Who, other than Gideon Sa’ar, wants his name to be associated with such regressive legislation, especially half an hour before this government collapses? MK Lasky said that she was confident she could persuade the government to make changes to the bill, such as facilitating Zoom warrants – a device that’s been adopted by several democracies in the West. There’s a judge on call 24/7, he or she picks up the urgent police call, asks a few pertinent questions, and authorizes the break-in.
MK Lasky made it clear she would not vote for the bill without the Zoom clause.
The Chairman of the Knesset Constitution Committee, MK Gilad Kariv (Labor), is probably going to keep the bill in his committee forever, unless his party chairwoman, Minister Merav Michaeli, orders him to. For now, the bill is not out of committee and the coalition doesn’t have a majority to pass it.
This is when a politician has to decide whether to push up the impossible hill or call for dissolving the parliament and going to new elections. But in Gideon Sa’ar’s case, new elections are a bad choice: almost none of the public opinion polls show his party getting over the 3.25% vote threshold.