Police Chief Suggests Blocking Social Media to Quell Civil Unrest

Chief of Police Kobi Shabtai. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel should block access to social media if tensions between Arab and Jewish citizens escalate into another round of widespread civil unrest, says Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.

Speaking to Yediot Acharonot in an interview that will be published in full over the weekend, Shabtai says that last year’s days of inter-communal violence, which coincided with fighting in the Gaza Strip, blindsided the Israeli defense establishment and law enforcement alike.

“Neither the police, nor the Shin Bet, nor the IDF — nobody expected there was going to be unrest in mixed cities,” he says, referring to Jewish cities with sizable Arab populations that became flashpoints of clashes between Arabs and Jews.

Shabtai pins the blame for the sudden flareup in part on the rapid rise in popularity of social media networks.

The police chief says that as Israeli streets were ablaze, he proposed at a Cabinet meeting to block social media networks in order to lower the flames, as he considers it a legitimate tactic.

“I am of the opinion that in such situations, blocking the [social] networks is necessary. This is war,” Shabtai says. “The social networks are the ones that bring people out to the streets. I’m talking about a broad closure of the networks. Shut them down, let the situation settle down, and when it does, release them. We are a democratic country, but there is a limit.”

In the interview, Shabtai also rejects claims that Israel has lost control over its southern Negev region, where organized crime has become rampant in recent years and residents report losing all sense of security.

“I still don’t think we have lost control. The situation is not a normal one, this is not normal, and I cannot argue with how people feel. Governance in the south is not only Israel Police’s onus, but of all agencies,” he says.

“The governance today is insufficiently enforced, but there is governance. No one does what they want and expects not to get caught the next day. In fact, anyone who uploads a video [to social media] will find themselves behind bars before long. Those weddings that had armed motorcades have been stopped.

“But it is a fact that there is still shooting, there is still murder, there is still violence on the roads, and we may still see a gang storming a hospital tomorrow morning. We’re not in Switzerland, but nowadays, we are in a better place than where we started, we are doing things that were not done before. Is it enough? Definitely not.”

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