Defense Ministry requests legal aid for haredi soldiers subject to harassment

The step comes against a background of renewed agitation by extremists in the haredi community against haredi enlistment.

January 20, 2017 00:41
2 minute read.
Haredi IDF

Soldiers who will serve in the IDF’s Nahal Haredi unit are sworn in. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The Defense Ministry has requested that the Justice Ministry provide legal assistance to haredi (ultra-Orthodox) soldiers who have been subjected to harassment by extremists in the community.

The assistance would be to help them file civil suits for damages and compensation.

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The step comes against a background of renewed agitation by extremists in the haredi community against haredi enlistment.

Although a campaign of incitement against haredi soldiers has been conducted for several years now, a new initiative has seen the creation of a database of photographs of haredi soldiers with the express purpose of publicizing their names and pictures to “shame” them.

The “shaming” campaign is designed to delegitimize haredi soldiers and seeks to shore up the notion that haredi enlistment is socially unacceptable.

On Wednesday, legal adviser to the Defense Ministry Ahaz Ben-Ari wrote to the Justice Ministry saying the harassment campaigns have created “an atmosphere of delegitimization and intimidation amongst haredi soldiers designed to dissuade potential enlistees from enlisting to IDF service.”

Ben-Ari said the potential existed to file dozens of civil suits against the perpetrators of this campaign as part of efforts to deter the harassment campaigns and make it financially damaging for them to persist with it.

Efforts to deal with the campaign through criminal charges have largely floundered since the activists have been careful not to directly incite violence against haredi soldiers, and freedom of speech statutes have prevented prosecution of the campaigners.

Earlier this month, however, a senior campaign activist was arrested over his suspected involvement in the online database, which may have violated privacy laws.

In addition to these efforts, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan convened in recent days a meeting of a joint committee to tackle the incitement campaign, including representatives from the State Attorney’s Office, the IDF Manpower Directorate, and the police.

Various avenues for prosecuting the campaigners were evaluated, while the police reported on new intelligence and operational efforts being made to combat the phenomenon.

Since the database is currently being stored on an online Google spreadsheet, requests have also been made to Google to shut down the database.

Ben-Dahan said a date has now been fixed to discuss the issue with the attorney-general, to discern “whether the umbrella of freedom of speech is not too broad regarding this issue.”

He said he hoped “a decision will be taken to reduce freedom of expression which has become freedom to incite in terms of haredi soldiers.”

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