Israel Pulse

Israel punishes Muslim incitement, ignores Jewish one

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Article Summary
Islamic Movement leader Sheikh Raed Salah was convicted of inciting terrorism, yet Israeli authorities systematically ignore incitement by Jewish far-right activists.

Sheikh Raed Salah, former head of the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, was convicted Nov. 24 of inciting terrorism and support for illegal organizations by the Haifa Magistrates Court. Salah had received a suspended sentence on a prior conviction and is therefore now expected to serve jail time.

According to Salah’s bill of indictment, Salah delivered a speech during the funerals of three terrorists from his city (Umm al-Fahm) who, in July 2017, murdered two border policemen in Jerusalem. Salah said: “At these moments [we need to stand together] as one house, as one family. We take leave of our martyrs and express the wish that they join the prophets, the righteous ones and the martyrs. At these moments, may we pray that God increases their value in the heavens in paradise. In the Garden of Eden above, God himself will honor them by drinking water together with the Prophet Muhammad.’’

In those days, when the tensions related to the Temple Mount were at their height, Salah was in the sights of Israel’s political and defense system. Otherwise, it is doubtful that he would have been arrested for what he said. Salah was the initiator and organizer of the Morabiton and Morabitat groups. These were established to remain on guard at the Al-Aksa Mosque against what Salah views as attempts to change the status quo (on praying times allotted to Jews and Muslims), in light of the fact that there has been a rise in the number of Jews who pray at the Temple Mount. The early signs of tensions in October 2015 were in fact the decisive factor that generated a wave of terror attacks. And it was this wave of attacks that ultimately led to the November 2015 Cabinet resolution to declare the northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement as illegal. Since then, it was clear that Salah’s arrest would only be a matter of time.

But the bill of indictment did not only list Salah’s present praises for "martyrs," as serious as these statements were. The charges against him also included acts he committed in December 2015, when he spoke in Baqa al-Gharbiya and displayed a controversial racist Jewish religious book called “The King’s Torah” and claimed that it allowed Jews to spill the blood of Palestinian children. This 230-page book was written by two rabbis from the Yitzhar settlement, Yitzhak Shapira and Yosef Elitzur. The book was supposed to present Jewish religious guidance regarding when is it permissible or even necessary to kill non-Jews. According to the book, in certain cases, the killing of children is justified since their presence helps facilitate the murder of Jews.

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On Dec. 24, 2015, radical right-wing activists published a video recorded at a wedding just a few days earlier. At the wedding, activists were dancing, holding up and stabbing the photo of the Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabsheh, who was murdered in July 2015. Ali was murdered with other members of his family when settlers set their home on fire in the West Bank village of Duma. Three days later, Salah posted on social networks his Baqa al-Gharbiya speech.

“Our children, you are heroes, we will sacrifice for you. We are happy to be sent to prison for your sake, happy to inflict attacks and threaten on your behalf, happy to die as martyrs for your sake,” Salah said in his speech against the book. As mentioned, following these statements he was indicted and convicted.

Contrary to Salah, the author of "The King’s Torah," Elitzur, considered the Duma attack a heroic action. He published an article stating: "I hope that the people who perpetrated the act in the Duma village won’t be caught. I hope so because the people going after them are not honest people …’’ Following these statements, Elitzur was summoned to the police station and questioned. Again, he was not indicted and not convicted. It seems that time, as well freedom of religious expression, was on his side.

It is absurd that the freedom of religious expression granted to the two authors of the racist book was not granted to Sheikh Raed Salah. True, after "The King’s Torah" was published, the two authors were called in for investigation by the police. However, the attorney general closed the file against them due to a lack of evidence. Human rights groups petitioned the High Court, demanding that the authors be put on trial, but the petition was rejected because “the book still remains largely within the boundaries of freedom of expression with regard to Jewish law,” according to Supreme Court Vice President Elyakim Rubinstein, himself a religious Jew. According to the High Court, the book “defames Judaism, making Jews into racists, but they [the authors] should not be prosecuted under criminal law.”

Attorney Avigdor Feldman, who represents Salah, told Al-Monitor that “[Haifa Magistrate’s Court] Judge Shlomo Banjo did not leave out anything negative that could possibly be said against Raed; the judge created an atmosphere in which he tried to bring all the severity of the law against him [Raed]. Even Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said, after Raed’s arrest, that he hopes that this time the full severity of the law will be invoked against Raed, and with the hope that the latter will spend an extended period of time behind lock and key.”

According to Feldman, there is no doubt that double standards exist in court. “That’s the way it is when the prime minister himself expresses severe incitement against 20% of the population [the Israeli-Arab public]. Others get the message and continue to incite, and they are not arrested or brought to court,” he said.

Feldman said that during the court case, the justice was shown statements uttered by religious Zionist rabbis and right-wing extremists such as Otzma Yehudit (far-right Jewish Power) activists. In response, the justice merely said that each text must be examined on its own merits, and rejected the argument that he was under the influence of politicians.

After the verdict was delivered, Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman wrote, “I hope that the punishment he will receive will be in accordance [with the severity of his actions]. Anyone who saw today how the members of the [Arab] Joint List party made a pilgrimage to the High Court and then displayed their support for a terrorist now understands that we face a fifth column, period.” Aren’t these words of incitement?

Education Minister Rafi Peretz, the chairman of HaBayit HaYehudi, blessed the High Court and, while turning toward those members of the Joint List who were present at the time, he said, “To those who conceived of a minority government dependent on the Joint List — I suggest that you get a good look at those who came to the court this morning and supported that same inciting sheikh.” Peretz, a religious Zionist and a respected educator, has never come out publicly against words of incitement uttered by right-wing extremists such as Benzi Gopstein, head of the Lehava Organization, who uttered the following words: “If we don’t chase them away, they [the Arabs] will continue to laugh and rape and kill. Hardly a day goes by that an Ishmael [Arab] doesn’t try to harass and rape girls. They introduce a culture of murder and rape.”

In most cases, words of incitement uttered by right-wing extremists do not reach the courts due to the political-public defense protection they receive. True, Salah is a religious preacher whose fiery words and actions are offensive. But we will only know real justice when the same rules are applied to inciters of a different kind.

Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Eldar has published two books: "Eyeless in Gaza" (2005), which anticipated the Hamas victory in the subsequent Palestinian elections, and "Getting to Know Hamas" (2012), which won the Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature. He was awarded the Ophir Prize (Israeli Oscar) twice for his documentary films: "Precious Life" (2010) and "Foreign Land" (2018). "Precious Life" was also shortlisted for an Oscar and was broadcast on HBO. He has a master's degree in Middle East studies from the Hebrew University. On Twitter: @shlomieldar

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