The Israel Police questioned a social activist from Tel Aviv as a criminal suspect on Tuesday, after he allegedly hung a sign with the words “the rapist” on a bridge named after controversial former minister and general Rehavam Ze’evi. Uri Givati was questioned on suspicion of violations of privacy, but not for vandalizing the bridge or the original sign with Ze’evi’s name on it.
Ze’evi was portrayed as a sexual predator, associate of organized crime, violent antagonist of journalists – and even as a cold-blooded killer – in an exposé aired on the Israeli Uvda investigative program in 2016. The show presented five women who accused Ze’evi, who was assassinated by four Palestinians in a Jerusalem hotel in October 2001 while serving as tourism minister, of sexual assault when they served under his command in the Israeli army.
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The sign was put up about three weeks ago using rope, which did not damage the bridge over the Ayalon Highway in Ramat Hasharon. Police from the Glilot police station told Givati he was being questioned for violating privacy because he publicized “a matter concerning the private life of a person, including their sexual past or behavior in a private place.” The maximum punishment for this crime is five years in prison.
During the questioning process, it was revealed that the police suspected Givati of putting up the sign after fingerprints were taken from the scene. His fingerprints are in the police database because he was arrested during protests near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem. Givati calls these instances false arrests.
The police asked Givati what “message he was trying to send by hanging the sign,” he said. Givati exercised his right to remain silent during the questioning process, afterwards signing a document ordering him to stay away from the area of Ramat Hasharon. He said he intends on appealing the restraining order in court.
Givati is critical of the very existence of the investigation, he told Haaretz. “Freedom of expression in Israel is under attack. The police questioned me on the charge of hanging a sign on a bridge and on suspicion of violating privacy.”
Ze’evi is a “person who many women testified that he attacked them, including testimony of rape. I have no idea why the police think it is their role to censor legitimate criticism in the public space. I hope that this scandalous investigation of me will only encourage other activists to act against the commemoration of rapists in the public space,” Givati added.
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Gaby Lasky, a civil rights lawyer representing Givati, said: “It is unimaginable that they investigated Givati on suspicion of violating the privacy of a dead person, instead of using the police’s resources to prevent the next rape. It seems that the purpose of the investigation is an attempt to shut people up who want to expose sex crimes committed by those in authority.”
The police did not answer questions from Haaretz about what constitutes a violation of privacy and whether the investigation was a violation of the right to freedom of expression.
The police said the investigation was opened after it received a report by phone and that the investigation is ongoing. “Naturally, we cannot provide details about ongoing investigations,” they added, saying that the police said they will continue to carry out their legal responsibility to investigate every suspicion of a crime being committed, “With the goal of discovering the truth.”