The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) has admitted to interrogating prominent US author and scholar Reza Aslan at the Israel-Jordan border two weeks ago, but denied that he was threatened in any way or asked about his political opinions.
Aslan said on Tuesday that he had been interrogated by the Shin Bet for an extended period of time, that the Shin Bet agent threatened that he might not see his children for a long time, and that he was asked political questions and told to name Palestinians and journalists he associates with.
The Shin Bet said that Aslan, who they noted was born in Iran, was interrogated "after his behavior aroused suspicion," although it did not specify what exactly he had done to arouse these suspicions.
"At the end of a brief interrogation Mr. Aslan was released after the suspicion was lifted," the Shin Bet said in its response.
"The claims made about threats against Mr. Aslan and the claims about political questions were thoroughly examined by the Shin Bet, and it was found that they are totally without foundation and have no basis to reality," the agency insisted.
It also said the agency's operations on Israel's borders have prevented terrorist activities and espionage by foreigners this year.
Aslan's interrogation and claims about political questions follow a recent spate of similar such incidents.
According to attorney Dan Yakim, the chief legal counsel of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Shin Bet is permitted to conduct what are known as "warning conversations" but need to fulfill several conditions.
These include obtaining the approval of the Attorney-General's Office for such questioning, summoning the individual in advance and informing them that they have the right to refuse the summons.
These conditions certainly apply for Israeli citizens and should also apply for foreign citizens, Yakim said.
He said it does not appear that these conditions are being fulfilled by the Shin Bet in the recent spate of detentions and interrogations of both Israelis and non-Israelis, and that they were therefore illegal.
ACRI has filed three appeals on the issue with the Attorney-General's Office since June, which is now looking into the matter.
Yakim said it appeared from the recent series of such incidents that the Shin Bet or another agency has some kind of list of individuals who have been flagged as suspect.
"There is no reason for the Shin Bet to track activities opposing the occupation [of the West Bank], or of human rights activists or who go to demonstrations," he said.
Yakim said it was unclear what was behind the recent run of such incidents, but opined that the Shin Bet may have internalized prevailing opinions and comments from the prime minister and senior government ministers against left-wing organizations, and taken the initiative to conduct these "warning conversations."
Other recent incidents included the detention and questioning of prominent Jewish-American political commentator and author Peter Beinart last week at Ben-Gurion Airport and Jewish-American activists who were detained and questioned about their political beliefs and activities earlier this month at the Israel-Egypt border.
Channel 1 reported Wednesday night that some 250 visitors to Israel had been turned back at its borders and sent home by the Shin Bet since the beginning of 2018. Most of those denied entry to the country were Muslim, according to the report.