The Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Shmuel Veisfish, an activist in the extremist Sikrikim group, who was sentenced by the Jerusalem District Court in January this year to two years imprisonment for rioting, extortion, assault and grievous bodily harm.

Veisfish was convicted for his participation in the harassment and assault of the owner of the “Space” electronics store in the haredi neighborhood of Geula in Jerusalem in 2008, but lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court over the severity of his sentence.

Veisfish, and other Sikrikim militants, had objected to the sale of portable video players in the store, which they claimed corrupted haredi youth. They arranged dozens of protests demanding that “Space” stop stocking such items and would drive customers out of the store and block the entrance. The group’s members also threatened to kill the employees and burn the store unless they stopped working there.

During one of the protests Veisfish and another Sikrikim member, Ephraim Greenfield, dragged storeowner Binyamin Fredman out of the shop. Veisfish held Fredman from behind as Greenfield beat and punched him, breaking his nose. Fredman also sustained a broken finger and a cut lip.

Supreme Court justices Miriam Naor, Salim Joubran and Yoram Danziger rejected Veisfish’s appeal, stating that the penalties imposed on Veisfish did indeed suit the gravity of the offenses.

“The appellant took the liberty of imposing his opinions on others through violent means, enacted on an almost daily basis against the store, its employees and its customers,” read the verdict. “Such conduct undermines the foundations of our legal and democratic system.

Yet sadly, it has spread into our society and become a real problem, which needs to be eliminated. Enforcement [of the law] in this issue is therefore very important.”

When tried by the Jerusalem District Court, Veisfish denied all charges leveled against him, claiming that he had not committed them. The judge rejected these claims, convicted him of the offenses attributed to him, and sentenced him to two years imprisonment and a sixmonth suspended sentence.

He was also given a NIS 5,000 fine and ordered to pay Fredman NIS 50,000 in compensation.

During the appeal, Veisfish did not deny that he had committed the various offenses he was convicted of, but disputed some of the details. He claimed that he had not dragged Fredman out of the store, but that he had exited it of his own accord, and argued that he had held Fredman for only 20-25 seconds while Greenfield beat him, and not an entire minute, for which the Jerusalem District Court had convicted him.

Veisfish also requested a more lenient sentence in light of his clean criminal record before the incident, the fact that he had not participated in any similar events or protests, the difficulties he would face in prison as a member of the haredi community, and the financial and family difficulties that would be caused by a lengthy prison sentence.

The Supreme Court justices rejected most of Veisfish’s claims, although they agreed that Fredman had left the store of his own accord, in an attempt to chase Greenfield from the shop, and that Veisfish had held on to Fredman for only 20-25 seconds.

Despite this, the court ruled that the sentence he received was appropriate for the offenses he committed, and that his personal and family circumstances had already been taken into consideration and had led to a more moderate sentence then would have otherwise been imposed. The court therefore stated that it saw no reason to intervene and reduce the sentence.

“The penalties imposed, especially with regard to the charge of grievous bodily harm, are appropriate to the seriousness of the offenses and it is in the public interest that there is a [sufficient] deterrent,” the justices ruled.

Shmuel Poppenheim, an unofficial spokesman for the haredi community said that “95 percent of residents in Geula and Mea She’arim are against the violence of the Sikrikim, and completely support the punishment of those who carry out violent attacks.

No one disputes that they should pay for what they do.”

He added however that those living in the neighborhood still want to preserve its conservative and haredi character, and will even tolerate the “exaggerated” steps of radical elements, as long as they are not carried out with violence.

There is little real opposition to the activities of the Sikrikim, he said.

“Most people are too busy learning, or attending to their families to have time to go to protests against these people.

Even if they don’t agree with them, they don’t want to deal with the issue as long as it doesn’t affect them. It’s a combination of apathy and also a fear of confronting these violent people.”

Of the Sikrikim themselves, Poppenheim labeled them “batlanim” or loafers who are not do particularly suited to studying in yeshiva.

“They learn in kollel because its simply the thing to do after you get married, it’s the mainstream, not because they are particularly passionate about it. It’s an unhealthy phenomenon.

“They don’t really have any desire to learn but they don’t think of doing anything else, and are not really equipped to do anything else either.”

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