What I saw at a Shin Bet lecture at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University

After a Shin Bet recruitment event, all of my ethical and academic senses tell me that an academic institution should not collaborate with secret services anywhere – much less in Israel

It was the third day of the summer semester. On the colorful padded chairs in Mexico Hall, a lovely auditorium at the Hebrew Universityof Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus Campus, hundreds of students were sitting attentively.

The organizers made their introductory remarks and voiced satisfaction at the large number of people who had come to the conference. Then a fast-paced action film was screened on the large screen behind the dais, featuring lookout posts, ambushes and chases around hills and rocks, orchards and houses and neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

Afterward, a thin man in a white shirt, his graying hair cut in a youthful style, got up to speak. He opened his lecture with a question: “Do any of you knows where Yatta is?”

Before I could even raise my hand and shout out, “I do!” he had already answered with a mischievous smile, “Only those who have had their cars stolen surely know.”

But he, as he proudly declared, not only knows where those car thieves live, he knows every alley in that town, and also in Hebron, its neighbor to the east, better than he knows Dizengoff Street, one of the main drags in his hometown of Tel Aviv.

The screen behind his back proclaimed in big letters, “The municipal employment service for college graduates and students and the Shin Bet security service welcome you.” It also proclaimed, “A day spotlighting career paths in the Shin Bet.” And “The Shin Bet is looking for people who are looking for meaning.”

That phrase — “the Shin Bet is looking for people who are looking for meaning” — was also the heading of the email the university sent me.

“Students, greetings,” the letter said. “If you believe you have what it takes to work for the Shin Bet, this conference is for you! Come hear about possible career paths from key people in the Shin Bet. And most importantly, how you can join them. In addition to receiving information, you’ll be able to have individual conversations and submit resumes for exciting jobs in a variety of fields: intelligence, operations and security, technology and more. In addition, a fascinating clandestine affair will be discussed Attendance at the event is by prior registration only. First come, first served.”

The events calendar on the university’s website also declared “The Hebrew University is happy to invite you to a day spotlighting the Shin Bet.” So it all checks out, I decided. And I signed up. Afterward, I received a confirmation and several reminders and updates, and at the specified time and place, I arrived with my pen and my notebook.

I wasn’t disappointed. In the spacious lobby, which is visible to everyone behind its glass walls, a lavish and tasty spread was served up. Then, all the other promises in the invitation were kept.

The conference lasted more than two hours, and I wasn’t bored for a moment. The event was perfectly organized and very stylish.

The Shin Bet staffers — a woman and four men — were dressed in crisp white shirts, and the main speaker, the thin man, charmingly expounded on the intellectual, educational and psychological qualities and the professional qualifications needed for a key posting in one of the Shin Bet’s many and varied positions (which were displayed on the screen using wonderful graphics); the interest, challenge and great satisfaction the work offers; the flexible conditions, which are good for students; the excellent training given those who are accepted; and the chances of rising through the ranks. He illustrated his statements with fascinating stories.

He described what a day at the Shin Bet might look like. In the morning, the field coordinator (“field coordinator” is a central role that is the peak of the lecturer’s 27-year career in the organization) provides the logistics branches with intelligence about the change in behavior of Joe Schmo.

He receives the intelligence from his informers in the area (relatives, neighbors, rivals — it requires great emotional intelligence and communication skills to recruit them because, you must understand, “you need to know how you make a person do something irrational, something he doesn’t want to do”).

That Joe Schmo is spending a lot of time recently in the mosque. He writes on Facebook that he’s fed up with life. His father is unemployed. He even bought a knife. In the afternoon, data is collected, processed and analyzed using the most advanced technologies in the world. (Prior knowledge, such as computer science studies, for example, is required to use this, and the Shin Bet provides specialized training).

The story may turn out fine; the guy was just depressed or just happened to buy a kitchen knife. However, if it turns out that he is likely to plan a terror attack, then they arrest him at his home that same night and bring him in for interrogation.

By 9 A.M. the next morning, the guy confesses (the interrogator has to be not only highly intellectually and emotionally intelligent but also creative because they already know interrogation tactics, so he has to be able to invent new tactics to compel the person to provide intelligence against his will).

At the end of such a workday, you, a member of the Shin Bet, who are entirely dedicated to saving lives, return home to your family, your spouse and your children, knowing that you contributed something to the State of Israel, to defending its security and its democracy.

Yes, that is what he said — its democracy — and he stressed that the organization answers directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. A rustle of whispers went through the hall. Of respect? Of skepticism? There’s no telling.

The conference ended, in any event, with applause. The white-shirt-wearers left the auditorium and, as promised, took up stations in the lobby so that prospective applicants could speak to them one-on-one.

By the time I left, they were surrounded by dozens of students. I went home and I was beside myself, astonished by what I had seen and heard in Mexico Hall, in the academic fortress on the heights of Mount Scopus.

I was especially dismayed by what I did not see or hear, and what I have seen and heard all these years in military courts in Ofer and in the alleyways of Yatta and Hebron, from the methodical destruction of Palestinian society in the West Bank with temptations and threats and turning people against their siblings to the torture in the Shin Bet’s interrogation facilities. I have documented all their methods by speaking to victims, I told myself, and here they are presented to me in the guise of a perfect public relations production sponsored by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. And no one protests, speaks out against or disrupts this detestable conference.

It would be appropriate to call for an academic boycott of the Hebrew University and its instructors, whether or not the ethics code forbids this, for this collaboration with the Shin Bet security service. All of my ethical, aesthetic and academic senses — as a graduate and a current student of the university — tell me that an academic institution should not collaborate with secret services anywhere, much less in Israel, in light of its situation today.