The 28-year old Israeli author Moriel Rothman-Zecher, traveling with his wife and infant daughter, was held by the Shin Bet at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv this week. Haaretz reports that the agency, also known as the Shabak and charged with safeguarding state security and exposing and interrogating terror suspects, feared Rothman-Zecher’s involvement with left-wing organizations might turn into a more radical form of protest. Rothman-Zecher is the second writer to be so treated this summer, after journalist Yehudit Ilana was detained and questioned in June over her coverage of the so-called “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” in 2010.
For approximately two hours, Rothman-Zecher told Haaretz, he was detained by security until a man who identified himself as Gever — “Hebrew, more or less, for ‘Dude,’” Rothman-Zecher wrote on Twitter — from the Shin Bet questioned him.
“He asked, ‘Have you ever run afoul of the law?’” Rothman-Zecher told Haaretz. “I said, ‘yes, I was arrested a few times in Hebron and in East Jerusalem I was part of a nonviolent demonstration.’”
The interrogator then asked Rothman-Zecher which leftist organizations he belonged to, to which Rothman-Zecher replied that he wasn’t a member of any, but when he was living in Israel he identified “with organizations that use nonviolent tactics to bring about a better future.”
The full interrogation, of which Rothman-Zecher posted an account on Twitter, was focused on two groups: Breaking the Silence, a controversial group of Israeli veterans that believe the occupied territories are unjust and the Jewish collective All That’s Left, an anti-occupation group committed to a “Diaspora angle of Resistance.” The man from the Shin Bet claimed the latter group was sending people to Israel to make trouble.
The interrogator asked Rothman-Zecher for the names of All That’s Left’s “main activists,” a request Rothman-Zecher says he declined. Toward the end of the hour-long interview, the man from the Shin Bet let Rothman-Zecher off with a warning, claiming that it was a “slippery slope” from “legitimate, nonviolent protests… into something more violent and less OK,” Rothman-Zecher said to Haaretz, paraphrasing his interrogator.
The Shin Bet Security Services responded to the incident, telling Haaretz that “Mr. Moriel Rothman [sic] was questioned by the Shin Bet in order to fulfill its mission and carry out its duty in accordance with its authority under the law.” Rothman-Zecher, whose debut novel “Sadness is a White Bird” was longlisted for the 2018 Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, took to Twitter to describe the incident, writing that his treatment paled in comparison to that experienced by Palestinians.
“Stories about being detained by the Shabak at the airport are staggeringly & unforgivably common for millions of Palestinians,” he wrote. “Detaining or demonizing or cracking down on Jewish Israeli leftists is the ancillary [sic] story, and not [sic] the main story, which is how this state treats and oppresses and dehumanizes Palestinians.”
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org