Police on Tuesday arrested 28 members of the ultra-Orthodox “Jerusalem Faction” on suspicion of intimidating, threatening, and harassing companies to advertise in the haredi Hapeles newspaper.
The suspects, some of whom are employees of Hapeles, including editorial board members, are accused of carrying out a systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation against private and government- owned businesses in order to force them to purchase advertising in the newspaper.
Police conducted a six-month investigation into the alleged threats after they received dozens of complaints from senior company executives.
According to police, the suspects used a call center termed the “battle line” to determine which companies would be targeted for the day.
“After receiving the detailed instructions, dozens and hundreds of calls, faxes, and emails are made incessantly to senior executives and even to their family members,” Jerusalem district police said in a statement.
“This led to the disruption of the companies’ normal activity and to a serious disruption of the daily routine of the executives and their families.”
Ultra-Orthodox protest on highway 4
The newspaper’s Jerusalem offices were searched Tuesday morning and computers were confiscated. Meanwhile, some 250 police officers conducted raids and arrests in Modi’in Illit, Ashdod, Rechasim and Hadera.
The suspects were brought to Lahav 433 headquarters in Lod for questioning and remand hearings.
Among the organizations allegedly harassed were Coca Cola, Shufersal, Materna, Tnuva, the Interior Ministry, Strauss, Terra and Optica Halperin.
Police were met with angry crowds in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem on Monday that attempted to disrupt the arrests by throwing objects and setting garbage containers on fire.
The arrests come as the Jerusalem Faction – a political splinter group from mainstream Ashkenazi, non-hassidic haredim – has organized numerous public demonstrations that have disrupted the peace over recent months. The newspaper is associated with the movement’s leader, Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who has instructed supporters to participate in the protests.
Rabbi David Zicherman, a student of Auerbach’s, told Army Radio on Tuesday that the arrests are a “blood libel.”
“There was a wave of arrests like this exactly two years ago and nothing came of it, because there is nothing,” Zicherman stated.
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