Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

Ideas as dangerous as weapons

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The Israeli secret police don’t like the Israeli mathematician Dr Kobi Snitz.  Kobi SnitzOr perhaps it would be more accurate to say they fear him.  But how can one of the most powerful military states on the planet be afraid of a mathematician?  Then again, Kobi Snitz is also an activist with two Israeli organizations that oppose the occupation.  Both practice pacifist non-violent tactics and work with Palestinians.  So perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the secret police want Kobi Snitz to fear them.  That is, after all, the primary job of secret police everywhere.  More than anything, they and their political masters fear loss of power – the power to continue doing as they wish, with impunity.  In Israel, the authorities call this feared loss “delegitimization.”

Recently Shabak (aka Shin Bet) ‘invited’ Kobi Snitz to their office for interrogation.  A fascinating account of it follows below.  It’s written by American commentator Richard Silverstein, who followed up the story first published by journalist Amira Hass this week in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

First, a little background.  Kobi Snitz shared his story with me a couple of years ago for Our Way to Fight.  He was born Israeli in 1971, to a European-Canadian mother and American father who had emigrated to Israel.  After finishing school there, Kobi went to university in Toronto, Canada, then to Maryland for his PhD in mathematics, returning to Israel for post-doctoral work

“My politics developed while I was away,” he said. “Meeting Palestinians and Arabs at school in Toronto and Maryland heightened my sense of the need to build new kinds of relationships with Palestinians here.  When I came back in 2003, that seemed the most important thing to do.”  And so he has done since then.  This is why the Israeli secret police don’t like Kobi Snitz.

Richard Silverstein writes:

A few days ago, Amira Hass wrote a story in Haaretz about a Shabak interrogation of Israeli peace activist, Kobi Snitz.  Snitz is a mathematician at the Weizmann Institute and a member of a pro-BDS group in Israel called Boycott from Within.  He is also a member of Anarchists Against the Wall.  Snitz and several hundred other Israelis signed the group’s manifesto, which in turn brought many of them to the attention of the secret police (another term I use for Israel’s intelligence/security apparatus).

They “invited” Snitz to come for questioning exactly a year after the last time they’d had him over for a nice cup of tea and cakes.  He didn’t want to come, but they told him one of the alternatives would be sending a police car to campus to arrest him and haul him in for questioning.  Since they told him he was not being summoned as a result of charges being filed against him, he complied.

They offered him a “favor” not offered to Israeli Palestinian suspects who get worked over pretty well when they’re interrogated.  With Snitz, they offered to meet him near campus so he wouldn’t have to miss classes and other professional responsibilities.  How generous of them to accord a fellow Jew such kindness.

When Kobi arrived at the interrogation, he was met with a lower level apparatchik named Rona and a more senior Shabak officer, Mati, who introduced himself as a senior official in the agency’s “Jewish section.”  Mati told him that his Shabak responsibility included working the “extreme left.”  Most interestingly, the secret policeman told Kobi that the issue of “delegitimization” was part of the agency’s parameters.

This means that BDS activism inside Israel is considered by the Shin Bet either an outright criminal offense or an incipient one.  The Knesset has passed a law making support for BDS an offense, but my understanding is that it’s a civil and not a criminal offense.  The Shin Bet’s understanding of the law is of course shabby, but it doesn’t matter because the security service’s mandate is expansive and the definition of its purview is robust.

In 2007, Yuval Diskin announced a new doctrine that stated that the Shabak would consider any form of activism (even legal activity) that threatened the Jewish nature of the State as an act of sedition, and therefore it would be defined as a criminal act.  Though at the time most observers viewed this as a threat to Israeli Palestinian nationalists (Ameer Makhoul, for example, is currently serving a nine-year sentence on such trumped up charges), it appears the concept has been expanded to include dangerous leftist Jewish radicals, whose ideas threaten to topple the State.  This is the insanity of latter-day Israel in which ideas have become as dangerous as weapons, and thoughts as seditious as actual acts.  Thankfully, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a legal challenge to this doctrine.

At the beginning of the interrogation session, Mati reached out his hand to Kobi, but the latter refused it.  Mati seemed genuinely offended and said: “What, you have something against shaking people’s hands, or is it just my hand you won’t shake?  I shake hands with anyone, even people I don’t agree with.”  Kobi replied: “It might be different if I came willingly at your invitation.  But that wasn’t an option here.”

Mati seemed only too willing to give him a lecture on the nature of Israeli democracy, which Kobi through ludicrous coming from the mouth of a security agent.  So he shut up and the conversation ended quickly.  But not before Mati told him that he’d been seeing Kobi’s name too often (whatever that meant) and that his actions had “crossed the line.”  The agent didn’t specify either what activity was viewed as troublesome, or what the line was (Israel’s security apparatus doesn’t need to define these things).  This meeting, Mati said, was more of a courtesy.  If he continued with the “troublesome” activities in which he’d been engaged, the next meeting would be “a lot less pleasant.”

Since Kobi works closely with Palestinians who receive precisely this sort of unpleasant treatment, he knew what that meant.  He also was pretty sure Mati was bluffing, as he had been similarly interrogated precisely a year before.  In fact, he wondered whether this might be the equivalent of a yearly annual security “physical” performed by his “resident” security specialist.  But more than anything, he thought it was an attempt to build a psychological profile of each activist for future use.

Rona, the junior clerk then pulled out a piece of lined paper and read from a handwritten statement she’d penned warning him that his behavior was unacceptable to the authorities and that he should mend the error of his ways.

Kobi told me that twelve of so other activists have been similarly targeted, so this is a growing phenomenon of intimidating Israeli Jewish activists.  Apparently, the security services view the ideas of anarchists as equally dangerous to the actual bombs and bullets of settlers who’ve actually murdered Palestinian victims and burned down their mosques.

There’s no danger the security services will actually solve any settler crimes of violence against Palestinians.   In fact, they routinely “lose” the evidence and release suspects from jail.  In this case reported today, a group of settlers who spied on IDF troop movements (a crime in wartime punishable by death), attacked soldiers and trashed a military base were sentenced to nothing more than house arrest.  The worst the authorities do is slap an administrative order on a settler prohibiting him from being on the West Bank for a period of time.

Kobi told me that Israeli anti-occupation activist Yonatan Pollak had been threatened with such a restraining order.  This, of course, would mean restricting the freedom of movement of a citizen suspected of no illegal act except thinking (oh yes, participating in a West Bank protest against the will of the IDF is an illegal act in the Occupation state called Israel).

Instead of moving against actual settler crimes, the Shin Bet would prefer to hound unarmed, pacifist anarchists whose only illegal acts involve having “unacceptable” thoughts on political issues.  The secret police must get it through their thick skulls that it is not illegal to advocate change in society, not even radical change.

When turning Israel into a democratic state offering equal rights to all citizens is viewed as criminally seditious behavior, you know that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

One thought on “Ideas as dangerous as weapons

  1. Another astonishing and frightening post. I will be forwarding this to friends and to my MP here in the UK, urging him to ask the UK government if they are aware of the behaviour of the israeli secret police and pushing them to demand explanations from the Israeli embassy on the behaviour of their security forces. Of course I have no illusions here – it’s just a need to do some little thing as a tiny act of solidarity. Alan


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