22 arrested for extorting executives to buy ads in haredi newspaper

Suspects who ran scheme are said to be well-known haredi politicians living in Jerusalem, their identities have not been disclosed.

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March 26, 2015 00:53
2 minute read.
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A man wears a kippa. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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A six-month nationwide undercover police investigation ended on Tuesday night with the arrests of 22 suspects accused of extorting business executives into buying advertising space in a haredi newspaper, police announced on Wednesday.

The investigation, overseen by the Jerusalem Police Fraud Unit into the Hapeles newspaper, was initiated after police received several complaints from Jerusalem businessmen, including some working at government- owned companies, police said.

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According to police, the executives were besieged daily by dozens of telephone calls, emails, and faxes by members of the Lithuanian haredi group in an attempt to force them to advertise in their Hebrew newspaper.

The businesses in question were allegedly targeted by the suspects – who live in Bnei Brak, Ashdod, Yeroham, Modi’in Illit, and Jerusalem – after agreeing to advertise in the rival Yated Ne’eman, police said.

The investigation revealed that the suspects were given daily instructions from a call center known as the “Battle Line,” and would be told who to target, how often, and what to say, police said.

The two suspects who allegedly ran the call center are said to be well-known haredi politicians living in the capital, although police did not release their identities.

The ensuing bombardment of calls, emails, and faxes disrupting the businesses lasted for roughly one year, police said, resulting in many of the businesses canceling their contracts with Yated Ne’eman to avoid further harassment.



At its peak, police said nearly 200 police officers, Special Patrol Unit officers, Border Police officers, and detectives worked on the investigation.

All the suspects were arraigned on Wednesday morning at Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court, police said. Upon confessing their involvement, a judge released most of the suspects to house arrest.

A statement released on behalf of Hapeles said that paper’s directors were “astounded and outraged” at the arrest of its supporters, who it said had acted faithfully and in accordance with all laws in attempting to negate a boycott of Hapeles itself.

The statement said that the harassing phone calls had been conducted “at the volition of the activists themselves, who felt injured by the willingness of commercial and state bodies to capitulate to illegitimate pressure to boycott Hapeles.”

Supporters of the paper “worked in a legal manner while using their basic consumer rights to receive equal treatment and fair service” while expressing their dissatisfaction with those who complied with the boycott of the newspaper.

Hapeles is the mouthpiece of a renegade haredi group known as the Jerusalem Faction and led by 84-year-old Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach.

Auerbach and his Jerusalem Faction have rebelled against the mainstream non-hassidic haredi leadership and its political movement Degel Hatorah, which is served by the Yated Ne’eman newspaper.

In February 2014, the rabbinic leaders of the mainstream haredi community Rabbis Aharon Leib Shteinman, 102, and Rabbi Haim Kanievsky, 87, wrote a public letter calling on the haredi community not to advertise in Hapeles.

The two rabbis criticized Hapeles for “besmirching Torah sages and spreading hatred among those who fear God,” and then “called to all those for whom fear of God is in their heart not to allow this newspaper to enter their house in anyway and not to help it in anyway, not to be interviewed in it and not to advertise anything with it in any way, and those who do advertise in it should know that they are assisting the desecration of God’s name in supporting this illegitimate enterprise.”

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