News Release

“Israel Is Militarizing and Monetizing the COVID-19 Pandemic”


RICHARD SILVERSTEIN, richards1052 at, @richards1052
Silverstein writes on security and other issues at Tikun Olam and for numerous other outlets. He just wrote the piece “Israel Is Militarizing and Monetizing the COVID-19 Pandemic” for Jacobin, which states: “Coronavirus is ravaging the globe right now. It’s a perfect time for the Israeli state to figure out how to expand its already vast surveillance powers.”

Silverstein writes: “As the number of Israeli victims and the first death from coronavirus was announced, Netanyahu saw an opportunity to revive his political relevance. Actually, Netanyahu acted even before the first death, which was on March 20.

“Only a few days earlier, on March 16, he asked the Knesset intelligence committee to approve the use of a hitherto secret national database compiled by the Shin Bet and comprising private personal data on every Israeli citizen, both Jewish and Palestinian. In the aftermath of 9/11, Israel’s Knesset secretly assigned its domestic intelligence agency the task of creating the database, which was ostensibly meant as a counterterrorism measure.

“The data included puts Edward Snowden’s alarms about the NSA’s mass surveillance to shame. It not only contains the names, addresses, and phone numbers of every citizen; it also records every phone call made, and the recipient of these calls, including name and phone number. It uses geo-location to track where every citizen has traveled within the country, and it maintains records of all online activity, including internet searches.

“The top-secret project was couched by Netanyahu as a powerful tool to monitor victims of the epidemic and all who had social contact with them. Few Israelis, aside from privacy advocates and related NGOs, raised any alarms about the obvious violations of individual privacy and rights entailed in both the database itself, whose codename was ‘the Tool,’ and its use to compel suspected coronavirus victims to self-quarantine. They remained silent — even though health ministry officials urging them to approve use of the database suggested that the epidemic would force the state to ‘suspend personal freedoms.'”