Price tags: Our writers examine the issue

Jerusalem Post columnist Isi Leibler and op-ed contributor Yitzhak Klein offer their take on the price tag issue.

'Price Tag' attack in Kabalan‏ (photo credit: RABBIS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS‏)
'Price Tag' attack in Kabalan‏
(photo credit: RABBIS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS‏)

Indignation is not a policy

By Yitzhak Klein

In the decades prior to the fall of Communism the legal systems of most Central European states looked a lot like their Western counterparts.

People accused of the crimes such as fraud, assault, even murder were arrested, investigated and tried pretty much like in the West. The accused had the right to defense counsel.
Acquittals were rare, but the same could be said of other legal systems – such as Israel’s.
It was only when an indictment had a whiff of politics about it that the system exhibited Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde characteristics.
Due process was suspended.
Guilt and punishment were determined in advance.
Evidence was irrelevant. The accused was usually convicted of a crime he never contemplated committing; his real crime was to open his mouth or use his pen.
Israel’s criminal justice system tends to exhibit Jekyll- Hyde characteristics of its own.
Crimethink, to use Orwell’s term, is punished far less often than in Eastern Europe before 1989, though the phenomenon is not unknown – think of Margalit Har-Shefi, who was jailed for allegedly knowing what Yigal Amir was thinking, or of Elitzur Segal, who received a fine and suspended sentence for writing nasty things about a former IDF chief rabbi.
But in cases with political overtones a suspect’s due process rights are liable to take a beating. Thus the state prosecution authorized totally unwarranted wiretaps of Haim Ramon’s phones when it was trying to put him away for sexual harassment. During disengagement, Israel’s state prosecution took a long, wholesale and officially sanctioned walk away from the law, using pretrial arrest to deter protesters and looking the other way when police beat them up.
It’s about to happen again, with Israel’s “price tag” malefactors as the next set of victims.
“Price tag” hooligans are motivated by a combination of half-baked ideology, racism and contempt for the law.
Their actions are stupid and criminal. The phenomenon is spreading and justifies devoting more police resources to it, as well as stern punishment for offenders – once they’re convicted in open court.
Price-tag offenders are not, however, by any stretch of the imagination terrorists against whom the full panoply of Israeli laws designed to fight terror ought to be enforced.
These laws set aside due process and expose suspects to potentially unlimited incarceration, as well as bodily harm at the whim of state authorities. Once they’re reclassified as terrorists, people suspected of price tag violence may never get their day in open court. They may, for example spend years under administrative arrest. Some of those so imprisoned are likely to be innocent.
There is an orchestrated campaign on the part of some politicians and the press to get price-tag hooliganism reclassified as terror. Partly, this is the result of genuine indignation; partly the attempt of some politicians to curry favor with publicists and prosecutors who tend to believe right-wingers are bad news whatever they do.
But indignation is a bad policy where law enforcement is concerned. It creates an atmosphere in which officials think the ordinary rules are suspended and they can do whatever they want. This is particularly true when the loaded word “terror” is used, and those accused of terrorism can find themselves without rights.
Recently the police, frustrated by their inability to acquire the evidence needed to put the leaders of Israel’s murderous mafia behind bars, asked Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein to sanction the use of administrative detention against them.
Wisely, Weinstein refused. Suspension of due process is not a proper remedy for the incompetence of Israel’s police. It is neither needed nor justified in dealing with price-tag hooligans.
We need to fear a public atmosphere that gives sanction to decisions whereby certain crimes, or worse, certain groups of offenders, are no longer subject to due process. In doing so, we not only provide opportunities for those charged with the authority of the law to abuse that authority. We gradually become a society that tolerates the suspension of due process, that no longer conceives it to be an essential aspect of civil liberties and human dignity. In denying due process to hooligans who indulge in vigilantism and mob law, we become more like them.
In free societies, people suspected of crimes are entitled to punctilious observation of their legal and human rights.
The point of these rights is not to protect criminals. It’s to protect all of us, and to ensure that we always keep in mind the moral distinction between those who break the law and those who uphold it.
The author is head of the policy research department at Kohelet Policy Forum. The views in the article are the author’s sole responsibility and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Kohelet Policy Forum.


The ‘price tag’ crimes must be dealt with now

By Isi Leibler

As an Israeli citizen, I am profoundly ashamed of the “price tag” crimes committed by Jewish hooligans and bigots primarily against Arabs over the Green Line. I am also shocked by our collective failure to bring an end to these ongoing outrages. Despite our sophisticated anti-terror and intelligence capabilities, there have been virtually no arrests or convictions.

These acts can be sourced to 2005, when settlers resorted to violence in response to their pain and desperation when forcibly displaced from their homes in the course of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza.
What has since developed is horrifying: From vigilante reprisals for Arab acts of terror or vandalism, it has extended into retaliation for government demolitions and evacuation of illegal structures or unauthorized outposts. The perpetrators and their supporters now also direct their ire against the IDF, and soldiers and police have been injured and military installations damaged in confrontations.
The indiscriminate acts of violence and desecration are outright hate crimes. The violence is directed principally at Muslims but also at Christians. It includes thuggish violence against individuals, burning and desecration of mosques and churches, stone throwing, uprooting and burning trees and fields, and incursions into Palestinian villages.
Such abhorrent crimes are not the acts of Jewish nationalists. The thugs who commit these offenses have more in common with the Cossacks at the time of the pogroms than with patriotic Israelis. The masks they frequently wear are reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan. They are not even conscious that they are behaving like the anti-Semites who launched pogroms against their Diaspora forefathers. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon describes their acts as “terrorism.”
Such acts are a boon to Arab propagandists looking for newsworthy stories to exaggerate and publicize.
Frequently, Arabs in conjunction with anti-Israeli “human rights” bodies delight in concocting fantasies or gross embellishments of such acts. There have been documented cases of Palestinians cutting down trees and fabricating attacks against themselves in order to accuse settlers of criminal activity.
Fortunately, to date, there have been no fatalities.
But if the scoundrels continue on their course, we will undoubtedly face greater disasters in the future. Last month’s confrontation between settlers of the Eish Kodesh outpost and Palestinians from the neighboring village of Kusra was a wake-up call. In the wake of a government decision to demolish olive trees planted in the outpost without authorization, Palestinians claimed that settlers intended to commit a “price tag” act against them. The settlers were ambushed and severely beaten. A bloody lynch was only narrowly averted due to IDF and police intervention.
Let there be no misunderstanding: the overwhelming majority of settlers are law-abiding citizens. They are fully aware that these thugs discredit them and undermine their standing in the broader Israeli community.
Moreover, even allowing for the fact that only a very tiny number of settlers, a fringe group, are actually engaged in this shocking behavior, the settlement movement must assume collective responsibility for spawning such youngsters devoid of humanity and decency.
The reality is that while their leaders, rabbis and spokesmen condemn these crimes, many do so without emotional intensity or outrage. More importantly, there are numerous settlers who are aware of these crimes, and yet are unwilling to intervene to prevent them or report them to the authorities.
The settlement movement leadership must urgently overcome any vestiges of ambivalence toward these hate crimes and campaign to expunge these deviants from its midst. If such hateful activity continues to flourish unchecked, the numbers engaged will multiply.
That such thuggish behavior is allegedly perpetrated primarily by religious nationalist radicals in isolated settlements or outposts, represents additional cause for concern. It must be recognized that some nationalist rabbis – including many opposed to lawlessness – have failed to create the environment which would neutralize xenophobic trends.
On the contrary, sadly, many rabbis lacking worldliness fail to appreciate the impact of remarks which bracket all Arabs with Amalek or accuse government leaders of breaching Halacha by opposing settlement growth or dismantling unauthorized outposts. Such attitudes encourage impressionable youngsters to believe that the Torah approves their right to fight for what they consider to be the will of the Almighty and grants them license to suspend the law of the land and engage in violence.
It is insufficient for rabbis to merely condemn such behavior. They must impress upon their students that the Torah enjoins us to accept the laws of the land and that vigilante justice and violence is no less a breach of Halacha than failure to observe Shabbat or Kashrut.
They should educate them about the humanitarian elements of the Torah providing for minorities and respecting all human beings.
Families living in isolated settlements surrounded by animosity need to take especial care to ensure that their children are not poisoned by the hatred surrounding them. The late Dr. Yosef Burg, one of the great leaders of the religious Zionist movement, once shared with me his gnawing concern about youngsters living in settlements, surrounded by Arab masses radiating hatred. He prophetically predicted that this virulent hatred could have a catastrophic impact on those living in such an environment.
These are trying times. A determined move must be made to use every social and physical sanction against these “price tag” deviants until they understand that aside from facing major criminal sanctions from law enforcement authorities, their communities will shun and effectively excommunicate them unless they cease these activities.
Finally, the “price tag” crimes must be understood in the context of the extremist fringes that plague this land. Ultimately, the seeds of fanaticism and extremism originate from the visceral anger directed by Jews against one another.
For example, the religious MK purporting to read the Almighty’s mind, proclaiming that Sharon’s eight year coma was divine punishment for displacing settlements.
Or worse, the head of the Hebron community – a known extremist – on the eve of Sharon’s death, referring to him as a “monster,” said “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry. Laugh because he’s leaving us or cry because his ‘this world’ suffering is coming to an end.”
He then warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that if he becomes “contaminated” by US Secretary of State John Kerry, “Sharon’s miserable fate will almost look good to you.” His article was published by Arutz Sheva which caters to settlers, The New York Jewish Press, an Orthodox weekly, and, to my regret, as a blog in The Jerusalem Post. That such an inflammatory article was published in any Jewish media is a damning reflection on our declining standards of morality and propriety. But even worse, there was hardly a murmur in response, aside from the Left joyfully depicting such vile outbursts as symptomatic of settler fanaticism.
The idealistic religious Zionist pioneers who built the early settlements and kibbutzim would never have visualized any of their descendants becoming transformed into such anti-intellectual, vicious, amoral brutes. And if “religious” youngsters can behave in this manner, what should we expect from the next generation? There is much at stake, far beyond the settlements.
This ongoing vigilante violence could widen the chasm between religious and non-religious Israelis and shake the very moral foundation of the nation.
At this difficult time, we should remind ourselves of Menachem Begin’s memorable words during the withdrawal from Yamit: “Messianism is what brought about the destruction of Jerusalem from within more than by the Romans from without.”
The writer’s website can be viewed at He may be contacted at [email protected]