Investigating Israeli journalist Yisrael Frey was wrong - editorial

Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are sacred values, and if you arrest one journalist for an outrageous comment, you are paving the way to arrest others – to society’s detriment.

Protester demanding release of journalist Israel Frey, December 27, 2022 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Protester demanding release of journalist Israel Frey, December 27, 2022
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Let’s start by saying it upfront: What far-left haredi journalist Yisrael Frey tweeted in September after a massive terrorist attack was thwarted in Tel Aviv was deplorable and reprehensible.

“See what a hero is,” Frey tweeted of the terrorist who was arrested before he was able to murder anyone. “He traveled the whole way from Nablus to Tel Aviv, and despite all the Israelis surrounding him who take some part in oppressing, crushing and killing his people – he regardlessly sought out legitimate targets and avoided harming innocents. In a proper world, he would get a medal.”

Frey wasn’t being ironic. He praised the terrorist because the people he wanted to kill – Frey’s people, by the way – apparently were not civilians but security officials. Frey articulated compassion for Palestinians whom he said were being oppressed, crushed and killed. However, he expressed none for the families – fathers, mothers, children, sons and daughters – of those the terrorist hoped to kill. That’s not compassion; it is callousness and cruelty.

That callousness was evident in another tweet a few weeks later, following the shooting of 18-year-old IDF soldier Noa Lazar at a Jerusalem checkpoint. “Harming security forces is not terrorism,” Frey wrote.

The question of whether security personnel killed in terrorist actions can be called victims of terror – since they ostensibly have the wherewithal to defend themselves – is a philosophical question for the ivory tower. It is one that Tzipi Livni, then-justice and foreign minister, waded into in 2006 when she said in an ABC interview, “Somebody who is fighting against Israeli soldiers is an enemy, and we will fight back, but I believe that this is not under the definition of terrorism if the target is a soldier.”

“Somebody who is fighting against Israeli soldiers is an enemy, and we will fight back, but I believe that this is not under the definition of terrorism if the target is a soldier.”

Tzipi Livni
 Protester demands release of journalist Israel Frey, December 27, 2022 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV) Protester demands release of journalist Israel Frey, December 27, 2022 (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

The blowback against her comments was fierce. In this terror-plagued country, you don’t want to imply that any act of terrorism is somehow legitimate. Period. To do so is insensitive and wrong. 

Arresting a journalist for something they said, wrote or tweeted was wrong

That being said, arresting Frey – a working journalist recently fired from Democracy TV – and interrogating him for the tweet, was a mistake. Permission to arrest GPO-card-carrying journalists because of something they said, wrote or tweeted must only be granted with fear and trembling. Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are sacred values, and if you arrest one journalist for an outrageous comment, you are paving the way to arrest others – to society’s detriment. That is a path down which Israel must not go.

Police said the state prosecutor approved an investigation of Frey for incitement to terror and violence after three complaints were filed against him.

According to the police, Frey was arrested after he ignored summonses to come in for questioning. In order to arrest him, an undercover policeman posed as a “source” who wanted to meet to give him information. Frey was released after a few hours of questioning under caution.

The Union of Journalists in Israel rightfully condemned the arrest of Frey for tweets “covered under freedom of expression.” Further, it criticized how the arrest was carried out – a policeman posing as a source – saying, “Treating him as a dangerous criminal while impersonating is itself a serious violation of freedom of the press.”

Frey was arrested for his tweets four days after Yair Netanyahu, the son of Benjamin Netanyahu, hinted during a radio interview that those responsible for bringing his father to trial should themselves be put on trial for treason, and face the death penalty.

“There was a malicious coup d’etat here,” Yair Netanyahu said. “They knew they were setting up an innocent man who happened to be the prime minister elected by the Israeli people. That means they were canceling a democratic election. That is called treason. And everyone is invited to look up the law and see what the punishment is for treason. I’ll just say that it is not prison time.”

“They knew they were setting up an innocent man who happened to be the prime minister elected by the Israeli people. That means they were canceling a democratic election. That is called treason. And everyone is invited to look up the law and see what the punishment is for treason. I’ll just say that it is not prison time.”

Yair Netanyahu

Treason, under Israeli law, is punishable by death.

No investigation on the grounds of incitement to violence was opened against Yair Netanyahu. Nor should there be. His comment was vile and despicable, but he should be shunned, not interviewed and given a platform. However, his words were not criminal.

Neither were Frey’s, as abominable as they were.