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Gilad Erdan: Israel is making progress against terrorism and BDS

The tragic murder of Ari Fuld on September 16 highlighted the two difficult jobs that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s No. 2 in Likud, Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, took upon himself when the government was formed.

In the first ministry, Erdan is in charge of police and will soon be selecting a new chief to continue efforts against the so-called “lone-wolf terrorists,” like the 17-year-old who murdered Fuld. That stabbing took place in Gush Etzion, where the police don’t have jurisdiction, but most lone-wolf attacks have been in Jerusalem, which has been the focus of Erdan’s new strategy in fighting terrorism.

Erdan’s interview with The Jerusalem Post took place before the 45-year-old’s murder but he made a point of sending another quote following the attack to put his efforts against lone wolf terror in perspective.

“As a result of the ground-breaking measures that I initiated, we have seen a dramatic decrease in the level of terror in the areas under the responsibility of the Israel Police, and particularly in Jerusalem,” he said. “Unfortunately, as long as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority he heads continue to spread violent incitement and pay salaries to terrorists, there will be Palestinians who will be drawn to terror. The recent cold-blooded murder of Ari Fuld, a true hero of Israel and the Jewish people, is a tragic testimony to that fact. I am implementing far-reaching measures to deter terrorists and counter incitement, including removing all perks enjoyed by incarcerated terrorists beyond the bare minimum required by law.”

Since the wave of lone-wolf terrorism began in September 2015, there were 155 terrorist attacks in 2015, 170 in 2016, 90 in 2017 and just 35 so far this year.

While Fuld’s life ended at the hands of a terrorist, whom he shot after the stabbing, his usual battleground was in the field of Israeli public diplomacy. Following Fuld’s murder, Erdan tweeted that the victim was part of a team the minister formed to spread the truth about Israel online and reveal the lies of the campaign to boycott, divest and sanction the Jewish state.

Erdan is responsible for the fight against BDS in the Strategic Affairs Ministry. The steps he has taken in that battle are controversial and unconventional. He points to successes in that struggle as well, while acknowledging that there is still a long way to go to minimize the damage the campaign does to Israel.

The cabinet formally decided to fight BDS and allocate a hefty budget to that fight three years ago, around the same time the lone-wolf attacks began. And while Erdan is careful not to compare BDS activists to terrorists, he sees both as enemies of Israel, who must be targeted strategically, with the proper preparation and technology.

Erdan reveals those strategies and talks about his own political future in the interview, which took place at his ministry in Jerusalem, located above the Prime Minister’s Office, where he hopes to serve one day.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, you recently announced that you will soon be appointing a replacement for Roni Alsheich. What are the most important tasks of the next police chief?
My focus is on the security of Jerusalem and bringing down violent crime in the Arab sector. Whenever a wave of terrorism starts, it starts in Jerusalem and it is connected to the Old City and the Temple Mount; then it leads to terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria and other places. That is what happened with the wave of terrorism that started exactly three years ago. We made many changes but still have a lot to do.

For instance?
I dramatically increased the police presence in the eastern part of Jerusalem but not enough to make up for 50 years of government services not being there, including police. People there don’t feel like they have an Israeli identity, but they are Israeli citizens. They haven’t received regular government services, including law enforcement – the police weren’t there. We have to rebuild the trust so they believe the police are committed to giving them a sense of security. If a woman felt threatened in the eastern part of Jerusalem, she couldn’t feel she would get the same services as she would get in Ra’anana. We want her to feel she has a sense of security. At the same time, those inciting terrorism, acting violently and throwing stones need to feel the police are there and they can be caught. This trend needs to be continued.

Arab leaders have recently complained to you that the new program to increase and improve policing in the Arab sector isn’t really working, claiming police implement “sulha” practices with crime ringleaders; that the new police stations only operate 9-5; and while there may be an increase in arrests, criminals are quickly released and very few cases make it to court. Do the police treat crime in Arab and Jewish society differently?
That’s not true. But it’s complicated. There is a gap of 50 years and it’s very hard to close it in two-three years. It takes time to recruit police and deploy them – adding 1,200 police officers to Jerusalem takes time. We need to raise their salaries, pay their rent in Jerusalem and give incentives to serve in the eastern part of the city because it’s not easy to get police officers to do their service there.
In the entrance to the Shuafat refugee camp, we opened a coordinated office and we will open more police stations in Arab neighborhoods. I accept the criticism but they can’t deny there is goodwill. We want to bring down violence, help the nonviolent majority living there. The effort to help the entire Arab population could go faster if the Arab MKs helped instead of fighting us.
When I joined the government, my condition was a NIS 1.5 billion addition to the ministry and most of the money went to the Arab sector. For the first time ever, I appointed a Muslim-Arab deputy commissioner, which is equal to a general in the army. If you don’t have the cooperation of Israeli-Arab leaders, it’s harder because they incite the people against the police. Instead of supporting our efforts to help the Arab population, MK Ayman Odeh comes to the hospital and curses the police officer. Arabs are victimized three times as much in crime, violence, road accidents, and we are trying to help them.

Odeh visited Jafar Farah, director of the Haifa-based Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, who was hospitalized after his knee was broken during a protest in Haifa that drew allegations of police brutality. [The Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department opened a probe, which has not yet been concluded.] Do police treat Jewish and Arab protesters equally?
I don’t know of different policies. When police prepare for demonstrations, they prepare based on their intelligence of how the protesters will behave: whether they are bringing weapons or coming just to shout. Police who are violent will be kicked out of the police, whether they were violent to an Arab, an Ethiopian or whoever. The police learned the lessons of the October 2000 Arab riots. I don’t know of protesters killed since then.

Three years ago a wave of lone-wolf terror attacks began. Despite the tragic murder of Ari Fuld, the number of lone-wolf attacks has fallen dramatically. What steps did you take to make that happen?
We took a combination of a few steps. We did it in cooperation with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). A big part of fighting lone-wolf terrorism is determining who will be the next lone-wolf terrorist. We increased our monitoring on social media to get the algorithm to find the terrorist writing his friends that he will see them in heaven.

I made news a few years ago when I said Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has blood on his hands. But now more of the world understands. The EU demands Facebook to remove in one hour any post that is determined as encouraging terror. There are keywords that give hints something is about to happen.

You have a team that is monitoring the Facebook of Arabs?
It’s a team with the Shin Bet and Justice Ministry that works together with the Internet companies to find them and stop them from doing what they want to do. We also cracked down on the organizations that encouraged violence; we outlawed the Morbitat, who would incite women on the Temple Mount, and Sheikh Raed Salah’s Northern Islamic Movement.

My policy was to move from defense to offense. There were villages that thought they had immunity. They know it’s not true anymore. It started with deploying 700 police at night. We don’t wait for them to attack. We go to their villages and find them before they attack.

We also dramatically upgraded police use of technological solutions. Not just monitoring the Net, but using smart cameras in sensitive areas, like Damascus Gate, where there have been 32 attacks in two and a half years. We dramatically changed infrastructure there. We installed smart cameras that are connected to databases, facial recognition cameras, license plate readers. Now we are doing the same in other cities and trying to implement it throughout Israel.

We did a joint research study with the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) and interviewed lone-wolf terrorists who survived to ask about their motivation. We found that most of the time they had made posts online that indicated their intentions to carry out attacks. We have stopped 200 attacks by online monitoring.

With the amount of gun violence we see in the US, many are concerned that your decision to loosen the criteria for gun licenses will lead to more violence here. What is your response to this?
I’m proud of the policy. Those who compare us to the US don’t know what they are talking about. In the US anyone can carry a gun without looking at their background. In Israel, it’s the opposite. No one can carry a gun without my ministry giving permission and checking their background. We look at their history and any hints that they shouldn’t have a license. There are so many who complain to my ministry for not giving them a license and I support my ministry.

There is no research that shows that those who carry guns legally were involved in illegal killings but there are many examples of people carrying guns stopping attacks. In Manchester, Nice, other places around the world, it took time for police to come and stop a terrorist attack.
That is the time needed to stop an attack and that is the difference between an attack with none killed and 100 people killed.

The ICT supported expanding the number of those who could carry a gun. We’ve given licenses to people who have training of how to function in high-pressure situations, especially those who served in the infantry. Of those permitted to carry a gun, less than 5% do. After expanding the policy, it will still be less than 5%.
Simultaneously, I asked the Knesset to approve my regulations to improve the training of those carrying guns. Until now they trained every three years, now it’s one and a half. They went from firing 50 bullets to 100, from just lying down to standing. They need to pass tests to keep their license. This will save lives. I want to ensure that if there are more people carrying guns, a public committee will advise me, and the ministry will tighten the oversight of this reform in a better way.

Doesn’t the policy encourage citizens to take justice into their own hands? Will this not open the doors for many more Elor Azaria-style incidents?
He shot a terrorist. Someone who wants to break the law with an illegal weapon will get an illegal weapon because we don’t check everyone who comes in to the country at every border crossing.

But what about someone who wants to kill a terrorist who no longer poses a security threat?
No policy is perfect – there will always be exceptions. If you give driving licenses you can’t always know who will drink and drive and the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I’m also worried and that’s why we will tighten checks and the way we supervise these people. But we have to look at the advantages and what comes of out of it for the security of the people of Israel.

Do you think former national security adviser Yaakov Nagel and accountant Iris Stark were right to resign from the Goldberg Committee, which advises on the ethical appropriateness of appointees to the most senior positions in public service?
I didn’t think their appointments were problematic, but after the Supreme Court decision and the fact that the court might delay key appointments, I think it was the right decision. Not because they weren’t qualified – I know both men and they were qualified – but when the Supreme Court starts a process, you can’t predict when it will end.

Won’t their resignations delay the process anyway?
I don’t think it will delay the appointment. We have until the end of the year.

Moving on to your other ministry, the Strategic Affairs Ministry, which leads the fight against the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, it has been three years since the cabinet decision to start fighting BDS: Have we won?
Like terrorism, BDS isn’t something you can win against. But you can minimize the damages. There are two billion Muslims criticizing and attacking Israel, and every few years they change the way they attack Israel, so we have to prepare, just like with the fight against terrorism.

I was appointed to try to build a better Iron Dome, infrastructure to protect Israel from BDS attacks. The week after I got the authority over the fight against BDS, the British National Union of Students decided to boycott Israel, Orange [cellphone company] decided to leave Israel, and FIFA was about to kick Israel out. When people asked me what I got myself into, I said this is the reality, and we have to change it. Three years after, the situation is very different. We have a professional department that is cooperating with pro-Israel organizations and campuses, and getting pro-Israel legislation passed.

I can show decisions, quotes of world leaders, legislation in 25 states punishing those who boycott Israel. Today the BDS organizations are fighting for their right to do BDS. In many countries it’s so limited. We are cooperating with closing their bank accounts. But it doesn’t mean there won’t be pressure on an artist or a soccer team that will prefer to give up their visit to Israel.

Do you think the policy of preventing BDS activists from entering the country and detaining journalists like Peter Beinart is helping Israel’s PR?
We don’t know why Peter Beinart was delayed entering Israel. When you try to enter the US, there are multiple agencies that say whether or not they can come in. My ministry is authorized to advise the Interior Ministry on which foreigners can or cannot enter – to see whether they are a permanent activist against Israel, backing boycotts of Israel, but not because of their political views. We are a democracy that accepts political criticism. No one will be stopped at the border because of their views. Only those who are actively talking action in permanent roles seeking to boycott Israel. When you sign a petition, it doesn’t count. I get complaints from right-wingers on who we did let in.

Any chance the policy will be changed?
You fix something if it’s broken. Just like with lone-wolf terrorists, the way to fight new phenomena and threats is to use new technologies that have evolved. Today you don’t need to go to a mosque. You can incite people online. You can crowdsource terror. The same is true with BDS, which has kidnapped the human rights vocabulary since the 2001 Summit on Racism in Durban, South Africa. They don’t care about human rights in any other country in the region, only about the Palestinians. They don’t know who helps terror organizations and that money is taken from the Palestinian people for terror.

What about the feelings among leftists that they are now being pursued unfairly like right-wingers felt around the time of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination?
That is twisted. The left wing still controls so much of Israel. But most of the left wing opposes the BDS movement. So do EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and former US president Barack Obama, who we have disagreed with on so many issues. Only the far Left supports BDS, because of their opposition to settlements. Supporting BDS is not a crime in Israel, but there can be economic consequences. Like with lone-wolf terror, we moved from defense to offense. If we wait for them to attack us, we will fail. We have to expose who they are in advance: that they aren’t pro-peace and they oppose Israel existing in any borders. That law has existed for more than a year, and only around 15 people were prevented from entering Israel.

Is the ministry actively monitoring Israeli human rights activists?
Never. That is naïve. But intelligence agencies in every country look after their extremists because people on the far Right and far Left could take action. I don’t know what the Shin Bet is doing.

Why is the ministry not acting more transparently?
We expose every dollar or shekel that we spend. We are being supervised by the Justice Ministry and the attorney-general, who tells us what must be reported. Only things that will help the enemy are not open. It’s like a war. They don’t tell us when and how they will attack Israel, and we won’t tell them what we will do to protect Israel from them. Only those things are not reported. What we do protects Israel from the damage the BDS organizations want to do us.

When will the next election be?
I hope it will be on its set date of November 5, 2019. I don’t see any reason to shorten a national, right-wing government. You never know what will happen in elections.

Do you think that will happen?
I only know what I know. I see what ministers Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett are doing to prepare for an election, as if it’s very soon. But looking rationally I don’t see any reason for an early election.

What are your ambitions in the post-Netanyahu era?
Everyone who is doing a job wants to be promoted and to reach the top. I think I have held many important ministerial and parliamentary positions. I don’t like it when people declare they are the future leaders, and I don’t think such announcements will make them the leader. One day the Likud members will look at their deeds and achievements. So I wont say that here or elsewhere.

You are the No. 2 in Likud. In that post-Netanyahu era, who will be your main political competition?
That is not relevant today. Today, we have a leader of Likud who is running the country well. What’s unique in Likud is we have had only a few leaders and we keep them unless they break redlines, like Ariel Sharon. I started the Likud rebels against the 2005 Gaza disengagement, because I worked with Sharon, and I knew nothing would convince him except political force. So I went to Yuli Edelstein and Ehud Yatom. Uzi Landau was the only minister who agreed to resign from the government, so we let him lead us.

We support our leader in Likud, especially when he is so much of a success. It might be frustrating that I am not foreign minister or that I did not get this position or that one, but there are still bigger ideas than Gilad Erdan. The success of Likud and its ideology is more important to me. I think one day, people will look at my record and judge me positively.
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