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Free Speech or Treason? The Debate Over Israel's Handling of Its Dissenters
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By Associated Press
Published 5 months ago on
November 21, 2023

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In a world where the freedom to voice dissent is increasingly under threat, Israel’s State Prosecutor, Amit Eisman, has taken a stand against what he perceives as unjust arrests of protestors by the police.

Eisman’s concerns, expressed in a strongly-worded letter to Maj. Gen. Yigal Ben-Shalom, head of the police’s Department of Investigations and Intelligence, have stirred up a hornet’s nest at the national police headquarters in Jerusalem.

The Case of Yael Abadi Reiss

Eisman’s ire was particularly sparked by the arrest of Yael Abadi Reiss, a resident of the southern Israeli town of Omer, who was detained for spray-painting “1,400” – the estimated death toll from Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault – near the home of Likud Member of the Knesset Shalom Danino. The police’s interrogation of Reiss, which included questions about her voting history and whereabouts on Oct. 7, was deemed excessive by Eisman.

The Knesset is Israel’s parliament.

Detention of Former MKs

The State Prosecutor also took issue with the detention of former Members of the Knesset, including Mohammad Barakeh, the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, who intended to protest against Israel’s war with Hamas. Despite Barakeh’s efforts to hold a limited protest in Nazareth, the police detained the participants, a move Eisman found unjustified.

Dr. Meir Baruchin’s Arrest

The case of Dr. Meir Baruchin, a history teacher from Jerusalem arrested following a social media post, further fueled Eisman’s concerns. Baruchin had posted photos of Palestinians killed by Israel’s security forces in the West Bank and made comments about the rape of Palestinian women in 1948 by IDF soldiers. Despite clarifying his condemnation of Hamas’ crimes, Baruchin was fired from his job and complaints were filed against him with the police.

The police’s decision to charge Baruchin with “intent to commit treason,” a rarely used offense with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, was met with disapproval by Eisman. The State Prosecutor’s letter to Ben-Shalom called for an investigation into these cases and a commitment to prevent such incidents in the future.

Police Response to Eisman’s Criticism

A senior police source defended the arrests, stating that they were reviewed by a court. However, Eisman’s concerns highlight a broader issue of law enforcement agencies adopting a wider policy regarding investigations and prosecutions for crimes of incitement, a trend that has led to increased indictments against Arab citizens.

As Israel navigates the complexities of freedom of speech and national security, Eisman’s stand serves as a reminder of the delicate balance that must be maintained to uphold the rule of law.

Read more at Haaretz.

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