Israeli Knesset Enlists to Wage Legislative War on Terror

December 4, 2015

3 min read

By: Gideon Allon

The Israeli Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is debating an anti-terror bill that seeks to reconcile Israel’s need to fight terrorism with the need to maintain democratic values as well as civil and human rights.

The bill aims to “afford the state the necessary legal tools to counter the growing threat of terrorism Israel faces.” It also proposes updating the codes, regulations, and laws that deal with the legal aspects of terror prevention and relevant punitive actions, and creating uniform legislation.

Debate on the proposals, which have been on the books for more than a decade, has a sense of urgency given the ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorism in Israel. Some of the legislators involved with the bill believe the current violence might make passing the bill easier.

Israeli Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri said Sunday, “Naturally, the government seeks to expedite this legislative procedure. The idea to create cohesive anti-terror legislation first came up in 2005, against the backdrop of terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, and unfortunately, it is still relevant today.”

According to Nizri, extensive research has been devoted to drafting the 100-page bill, which contains 135 articles.

“We formed a team comprising representative from all relevant bodies—the State Attorney’s Office, the Justice Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the military, the Shin Bet security agency, and the National Security Council—to work on this law,” he said. “This was very intensive work, and it included a review of all 170 articles in the Defense [Emergency] Regulations [of 1947], to determine which of them could and could not be replaced by the new law.”

The new bill strives to clearly define the characteristics of a terrorist organization and the meaning and ramifications of “affiliation with a terrorist group.” It also outlines an “act of terror,” stating it must have a clear motive—political, ideological, religious, or nationalistic—to inspire fear or prevent government action and characteristics such as inflicting serious bodily harm or undermining public safety.

One of the innovations introduced in the bill is the attempt to reach the “outer circle,” meaning not just terrorist groups, but organizations that lend them logistical, financial, and technical support under the guise of legitimate civilian activity.

“The war on terror takes many shapes and the bill seeks to provide law enforcement agencies and security forces with as many efficient countermeasures as possible,” Nizri said.

Fighting terrorism is not like fighting other criminal phenomena, he stressed.

“Terrorism is unique in that is strives to inflict more than property damage or physical harm. It seeks to inspire fear in the public’s hearts,” he said.

The new bill also aims to toughen the punitive measures imposed in terror-related cases, such as making an “act of terror” an offense punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and “aiding and abetting an act of terror” punishable by up to 15 years.

Some articles in the bill, such as those regulating the razing of terrorists’ homes or increased prison sentences, have sparked criticism suggesting the new law is as draconian as the Defense (Emergency) Regulations, and that it is oblivious to certain human rights.

“We could fight terrorism the way other countries in the region do, but we don’t think that’s how it should be—Israel is a democracy and we should pursue orderly and responsible practices on this issue,” Nizri said, adding, “On the other hand, we don’t have the privilege of focusing solely on human rights while neglecting other rights, such as the very basic right to life.”

“The main problem with this bill is that its definitions are too comprehensive,” Dr. Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank said. The broad definitions included in the proposal “means measures such as dismissing due process, violating suspects’ rights, and imposing harsher punishments are used too often, making the scope of human rights violations very problematic.”

Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Nissan Slomiansky (Habayit Hayehudi) said, “Unlike other laws, where the legislator struggles to foresee future situations and adapt the law accordingly in advance, this law is clear. None of the articles need explaining because reality proves them necessary on a daily basis.”

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