Analysis

Israeli Arab Poet’s Sentencing Proves Israel Has Separate Laws for Arabs and Jews

The prison sentence of Dareen Tatour exemplifies that what rabbis in Israel may do, an Arab poet may not. Her sentence could very well turn her from an unknown writer to a national hero

Arab-Israeli poet Dareen Tatour, 35, poses for a picture during an interview at her house in Reineh, northern Israel September 26, 2017.
REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

The Nazareth Magistrate’s Court sentenced the Arab poet Dareen Tatour to five months in prison and six months’ probation, after she was convicted of incitement to violence and support for a terrorist organization.

There will always be disagreement over whether her words could in fact lead to violence or terrorism, the standard of proof for criminal incitement to violence. But her sentencing, the policies of the prosecutor’s office and the connection between government policy and violence and terrorism can be debated. The judicial system must be just. It cannot discriminate among offenders who commit similar offenses, based on their ethnicity or religion. Indeed, representatives of the state repeatedly stress their commitment to the principle of equality before the law. That makes it hard to reconcile Tatour’s prosecution with the systematic closure of similar cases against rabbis. 

>> Israeli Arab poet Dareen Tatour gets five-month sentence for incitement on social media ■ In Israeli court, the poet was neutralized, so to speak | Editorial ■ 'Sad day for democracy': Israeli writers outraged at conviction of Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour <<

Law enforcement has learned nothing from its resounding failure to mete out justice against rabbis who encouraged “the heroes of the Jewish underground.” When it’s Jews, it’s an underground, not terrorism. Those who praised the “heroism” of terrorist Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslims at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994, paved the way for the assassination the following year of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

In 2012, then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, closed an investigation against the authors of “Torat Hamelekh,” which addressed Jewish religious law vis-a-vis the killing of non-Jews. The doctrine of these rabbis is expressed, for example, in the following statement: “Even [when it comes to] babies who violate the seven Noahide commandments [that also apply to non-Jews], consideration should be given to killing them due to the future danger that will be caused if they are allowed to grow up to be evil like their parents ... and even when they do not constitute a refuge for evil people or if doubt over where they are could prevent us from hitting evil people.”

The inhumanity and cruelty of this quote was not sufficient to land the rabbis in court on criminal charges, and even a petition to the High Court of Justice didn’t help. And that’s despite the fact that these rabbis’ influence over their flock is immeasurably greater than that of an Arab poet whose public standing, before her trial, was rather limited

According to the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court, it was enough for her to have possible influence on one individual, even if not an average person but rather someone who is atypical. Was the same standard used for the rabbis? Can the justice system look Tatour in the eye and stand behind its decision to prosecute her but not them?

A perusal of the sentencing on similar offenses detailed by the Nazareth court shows the there is a difference between Jews and Arabs when it comes to sentencing, to the detriment of the Arabs. While as a general rule, Arabs are sent to prison for incitement offenses, sometimes for a considerable time, Jews are almost never sentenced to actual prison time. 

Dareen Tatour laughs during an interview at her house in northern Israel.
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

This may be a vain hope, but one would hope that supporters of the nation-state law don’t think the identity of the state justifies such discrimination. One would also hope that the racist view is not prevalent holding that inciting comments influence Arabs more, since they are of lower status than Jews. If Jewish judges are more fearful of terrorism against Jews than that directed at Arabs, they should overcome such a tendency. The law needs to be applied equally. 

One must wonder about the wisdom in charging Tatour. A poet whose circle of influence was rather limited before her conviction has, by virtue of the legal proceedings against her, benefited immensely in the extent to which her words resonate. If the prosecution is concerned about her words’ influence, wouldn’t it be all the more concerned over the bad influence of the now much wider circulation of her inciting remarks?

Wouldn’t it be concerned about turning Tatour from a marginal figure into a national heroine? 

It’s important not only to be right but also to apply practical wisdom. When it comes to Israel’s standing in the world, one cannot ignore the fact that regimes that put poets on trial for their poems have a certain negative character. The prospect that putting a poet on trial for incitement would be seen as appropriate or justified is small. And furthermore, in circumstances under which the trial could be perceived as persecution, one should actually be concerned over increasing the influence of the purportedly offending statements.

Finally, it’s easy for the authorities to explain that the Palestinians’ terrorist acts are the by-product of incitement and to pin the blame on the inciters, even when it involves unknown individuals who have no standing in Palestinian society. Such a depiction of reality is convenient for those seeking to perpetuate the current situation or even to have it deteriorate, making the two-state solution impossible. 

In addition, in circumstances involving conflict, there is a tendency to attribute the acts of the enemy to its bad nature and its malicious character and not to the situation in which it exists and acts. The problem with such a depiction is that it is not true. 

There are indeed Palestinians who seek to destroy Israel, and this desire is unconditional. But there is also a large Palestinian public whose attitude toward violence and terrorism is influenced by Israel’s conduct. Those who create a situation in which first-class and seventh-class people live in proximity invites opposition, even violent opposition, particularly when they dash hopes for change, engage in constant humiliation and do not allow opposition that is nonviolent. 

It is not the incitement that is the primary cause of the violence, but rather the policies. No end justifies every means, and terrorism is a despicable and inappropriate means. Denying the connection between Israeli policy and Palestinian terrorism is foolish self-delusion.