Shin Bet chiefs spearhead the occupation

March 31, 2011 | Haaretz

Israel has become the Shin Bet state that philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz prophesied. Unlike its counterparts in the West, this security service is involved in almost every aspect of our lives.

By Gideon Levy

The appointment of that next head of the Shin Bet security service, and it’s not that guy they call Y., was greeted with applause by the Jewish National Fund audience, to whom it was announced.

Instead of Y., it was that Yoram Cohen guy. Can you spot the difference? The skullcap on his head has already been written about, as has the synagogue and settlement that lobbied on behalf of his appointment. His status as champ when it comes to assassinations, which is a major Israeli honor, is already legion, but his human relations record is not.

Cohen was photographed coming out of his house, unsmiling, a cell phone attached to his belt, just has things should be for such a job.

It’s hard to think of any other democracy where they would break into a prime-time news program to announce the nomination of a security agency head. Raviv Drucker was just about to disclose another facet in the story of foreigners funding the travel expenses of Israeli public officials.

It’s also hard to think of another audience that would applaud the announcement. Everything was done, however, in keeping with the position involved. The person nominated to head the Shin Bet cannot be a role model. It’s a cruel job which no positive gloss can clean up.

The announcement of the appointment justifies a news flash in Israel because the Shin Bet, unlike its counterparts in the West, is involved in almost every aspect of our lives: from the granting of a security classifications of a large number of people to carrying out assassinations, from the bloated and ridiculous security detail it gives to our leaders to its operations tracking and pursuing left-wing and settlement activists.

It decides who will be allowed to enter the country and who will be allowed to invest here. The Shin Bet state, which philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz prophesied, has already been with us for some time.

The Shin Bet heads have mostly been shown to be rather dull figures, and it’s no wonder. Anyone who has spent most of his life at the Shin Bet’s facilities, in interrogation work and torture, in recruitment of collaborators through contemptible means, in surveillance and arrests, as mentors for assassins and agents of the occupation, are not supposed to leave an impression in their civilian lives.

Even soft talk by former Shin Bet chief Yaakov Peri and his later success as a businessman and celebrity cannot erase his murky past. Even the housecleaning that followed the Bus 300 affair cannot guarantee we have a Shin Bet that speaks the truth and abides by the law. The Shin Bet continues to operate in the shadows.

Israel needs security agencies and they cannot be anything other than dirty. The problem is the centrality of the Shin Bet, the limited oversight of its exploits and the glorification of its leaders. Maybe someone has to do the dirty work, but all of us should remember how dirty and sullying it is.

Therefore Shin Bet heads cannot be turned into sought-after commentators. Their world is narrow and afflicted with paranoia and hatred of the targets of their manhunts and assassinations. They also have no idea what damage their deeds do to Israel’s international standing and image. It’s always possible to recount their successes, but who will count the acts of terror that were actually sown by their actions?

In addition, when Shin Bet heads decorate Knesset candidate lists, we need to remember their pasts. That’s the public price they should have had to pay for choosing to work in spearheading the occupation and for endangering Israel’s democratic character.

The supreme responsibility for all this actually rests with their superiors, with those who have chosen to perpetuate the occupation and who are now choosing to undermine the foundations of democracy. But sometimes the Shin Bet is their loyal servant and sometimes its serves as their dubious excuse and leads the leaders to the shadows. For example, when Yuval Diskin called Israeli Arabs a strategic threat, he was justifying all the anti-democratic legislation against them.

The acclaim of the Jewish National Fund audience on hearing Prime Minister Netanyahu announce his choice as the next Shin Bet head was devoid of meaning, of course. This was true not only because one can assume no one in the audience had the vaguest idea about Yoram Cohen, but mainly because, in its blinded condition, few in the country understand what this all involves.

Diskin is leaving office heaped with praise. He may even soon speak in favor of an agreement with the Palestinians – as perhaps when the time comes, so will Yoram Cohen – but it should be remembered that these people head a strong, unrestrained and cruel organization, which has benefits, but also causes us critical harm.

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