(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan said that his ministry along with law enforcement agencies will be stepping up efforts to combat the vitriolic campaign conducted by haredi extremists against haredi soldiers.
Ben-Dahan, who has been active in increasing measures against such incitement, said in an interview published in Yisrael Hayom that increased efforts are being made to stamp out this phenomenon.
In recent years, radical elements within the haredi community have published flyers, posters, public notices and booklets and placed them in public areas denouncing haredi soldiers, and portraying them as pigs and in other offensive ways.
Incidents in which haredi soldiers and officials involved in efforts to increase haredi enlistment are verbally abused in haredi neighborhoods are common, while there have been several instances of physical violence directed at such people.
In one of the most serious incidents of incitement, a booklet with the names, contact details and photographs of haredi activists and IDF officers involved in increasing haredi enlistment was published along with inflammatory descriptions of the individuals and their campaign.
Officials listed in the booklet subsequently received a series of threats and harassing phone calls, as well as protests outside their homes.
According to the deputy minister, steps are now being taken to trace the source of money for this campaign. Ben-Dahan said that organizations and NGOs associated with the radical Jerusalem Faction group that is suspected of being behind the incitement are also being examined.
Abusive phone calls will also be investigated, and the punishment for incitement will be made more severe.
“We feel that this is not sufficient deterrence or enforcement regarding incitement against haredi soldiers,” said Ben-Dahan.
“It takes too long to catch the criminals, and then it takes time for them to be investigated and brought to court, and even there the punishment is very light and for the most part end with warnings, not something substantial which would deter people. So we are working to change this.”
The deputy-minister also said that the boundaries of freedom of expression regarding incitement were too wide, and that aspects of the campaign against haredi enlistment were protected by laws regarding freedom of expression.
One of the legal problems that have been encountered in fighting the incitement campaign has been that the material, although frequently offensive and inflammatory, often does not contravene any law.
Ben-Dahan said that such laws should be limited in regards to the incitement against haredi soldiers, officers and activists.
He also called on haredi MKs to publicly condemn the incitement campaign, something they have so far refrained from doing.
The deputy minister has written to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and asked for him to set up a hearing to deal with the issue, including closer scrutiny of the funding sources of the campaign, and possible sanctions against those providing money for it.
Perhaps most significantly, Ben-Dahan has asked Mandelblit to enforce the law which prohibits inciting an individual to evade military service against those involved in the campaign against haredi enlistment.
This law is almost never enforced today against the incitement campaigners, but could be a more desirable method for stopping their campaign than changing laws regarding freedom of expression, and more easily enacted.
Ben-Dahan also raised concerns with the Hapeles daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Jerusalem Faction movement, which has taken a fierce stance against haredi IDF enlistment and those encouraging it.
The paper has itself come under fire recently, seemingly from within the haredi community, with flyers strongly denouncing one of Hapeles’ senior editors distributed around one of the haredi neighborhoods of Ramot in the capital.
Hapeles hit back at Ben-Dahan on Monday in an editorial where it compared the minister to Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayip Erdogan and the clamp down on press freedoms in Turkey, saying that Ben-Dahan was seeking to restrict freedom of expression in Israel.
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