Anarchist given 3 months in jail for bike protest

Founder of Anarchists Against the Wall, Yonatan Pollak, punished for 2008 demonstration against Gaza siege; dozens protest outside court.

Anarchists Against Wall Jonathan Pollack 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Anarchists Against Wall Jonathan Pollack 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Prominent left-wing activist Yonatan Pollak was given a three-month prison sentence and a NIS 1,500 fine for illegal assembly on Monday, after taking part in a January 2008 bike protest against the Gaza siege.
Pollak’s conviction for the illegal assembly activated a three-month suspended sentence he had received in an earlier trial for taking part in an illegal protest against the security fence.
RELATED:ACRI: Gov't cracking down on freedom of expression
During the hearing, Pollak’s attorney Gabi Lusky said her client’s actions during the protest ride, which backed up traffic near Kikar Rabin, “were no different than someone who double-parks or stops his car in the lane in order to turn on the GPS. When firefighters blocked traffic to protest for higher wages, no one came to arrest them.”
Lusky added that there was no reason for her client to be jailed, saying that “we live in a democracy, and when rabbis who write a letter inciting against Arabs aren’t called in for questioning because our country respects freedom of speech, then there is no reason for the court to demand a jail sentence in a case like this.”
Pollak was the only one of the 30 riders in the “Critical Mass” protest in downtown Tel Aviv to be arrested – a fact he has attributed to his prominence as an activist.
The 28-year-old Tel Aviv native is one of the founders of Anarchists Against the Wall and is one of the most wellknown members of the Israeli radical Left.
The plainclothes officers who arrested him near Kikar Rabin have admitted that they recognized him from a West Bank protest in which he participated.
Pollak has taken part in hundreds of protests in recent years. He made the news in April 2005 when he was hit in the head by a tear gas canister fired by an IDF soldier during a security fence protest in the West Bank village of Bil’in. Pollak is also the son of Israeli actor Yossi Pollak, who is also known for his outspoken leftwing views.
In 2007, Pollak was given a suspended sentence for his part in an illegal demonstration in 2004. The court ruled at the time that if he were caught taking part in any other illegal demonstrations for the next two years, it would be considered a violation of his probation, and the three-month sentence would take effect.
During his hearing on Monday, Pollak refused the judge’s requests that he agree to community service, later arguing that it wasn’t necessarily a lighter sentence and would require his cooperation with the proceedings against him.
After his sentencing, Pollak refused to pay the NIS 1,500 fine.
Dozens of supporters came to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Monday morning for the sentencing, and a small-scale fracas took place when a supporter wearing a T-shirt reading “There is no pride in the occupation” was detained by courthouse security after she refused to remove the shirt. She was later released after changing into a dress shirt and tie.
After Pollak exited the courthouse following his sentencing, his supporters broke out in anti-fascist and anti-occupation chants, and were pushed out of the courthouse one by one by security.
Pollak expressed no regret for taking part in the protest against the siege, saying, “I think what we did, riding bicycles on the street, is on the lowest level of using freedom of expression. If we must be punished for things like this, then I am happy to go to jail.”
When asked if he was afraid to take part in future protests, Pollak said that “there is a price to pay, but if you ask about fear, you must keep in mind that most of my friends arrested for similar crimes have been given much worse sentences, as much as 18 months in jail from military judges, all because they are Palestinian.”
Pollak vowed to continue to take part in protests, beginning on the very first day of his release.
“I won’t make any changes,” he said. “This is not my first time in jail and not the first time I’ve been charged. I have no intention on stopping.”
Contacted by phone on Monday, activist Ilan Shalif from Anarchists Against the Wall said Pollak’s sentence was a worrying development, but would not change things for the group’s activists, who he said were routinely being questioned by security services about their protest activities.
“Three months in jail is small change compared to suffering hemorrhaging in your brain, getting shot in the leg or hit in the head by a tear gas canister,” he said. “If you look at the other things our people have faced for taking part in our actions, a jail sentence looks pretty minor.”
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel issued a harsh rebuke of Pollak’s sentencing on Monday, saying it saw the case as “part of a larger policy to infringe on freedom of speech and demonstration in Israel.”
ACRI chief legal adviser Dan Yakir called Pollak’s sentence “an extreme punishment and an unusually harsh measurement.
The entire affair raises suspicion that Pollak was personally targeted because of his views, in an attempt to silence him and prevent him from taking part in various acts of protest.”
Earlier in December, ACRI published a report titled “State of Democracy: Freedom of Speech, Dissent, and Political Activity,” which they say illustrates that over the past two years there has been a significant increase in attempts by Israeli authorities to infringe on freedom of speech.