The imam of Lod's Great Mosque was charged Thursday with incitement and intimidation in social media posts published during May's spate of Jewish-Arab violence in the mixed Jewish-Arab city.
Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, 62, a prominent public figure in the central city of Lod, who is affiliated with the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was arrested last month following Facebook posts allegedly calling to harm police officers and threatening Lod Councilman Yossef Harush.
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In one of the posts, Albaz shared a video containing a short movie excerpt which allegedly called to harm police officers. In the video, which contains a murder scene of two police officers and was seen by thousands, the sheikh added a caption reading "The best way to deal with injustice."
According to the indictment, which was filed by the state in the Ramle Magistrate's Court, the sheikh's post "encourages violent acts." Moreover, the indictment notes that the post "could potentially cause violent acts."
Following online criticism, Albaz made another post in which he claimed that his critics "went mad." "Who would have believed that lawmakers would be so intimidated by an American film and someone expressing their opinion about it?" he wrote. "We'll wait and see if these are just a few madmen or...the whole state went bankrupt." Albaz's remarks were directed at lawmakers Bezalel Smotrich and Simcha Rotman of the right-wing Religious Zionism party to Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev, who had called for his arrest.
The indictment states that in another post, the sheikh wrote an open letter to the Mayor of Lod, in which he called on Jewish members of the Lod Council "to stop their thugs, because provocation will set us back a month," referring to the violence in the mixed city in May. "You'll pay the price for these actions. And for you, Yossi Harush…we promise you, we'll ensure you understand that we don't mind losing our souls to educate you and stop your bullying."
The State Attorney's Office asked the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court, where Albaz's hearing took place, to release him with restrictions until the end of legal proceedings. Israel Police noted that due to another incitement case against Albaz from 2018, the court should restrict his internet access, issue an exit delay order, and set a personal bond.
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In response to the indictment, Albaz's lawyer, Khaled Azbarga, said that "this decision does not serve the aim of the criminal proceedings, but the extremist agenda of the likes of [right-wing lawmakers] Ben Gvir and Smotrich, which state authorities have adopted against Arab society."
According to Azbarga, "the sheikh is paying a heavy personal price, however, thanks to it, the racist policies of the authorities are exposed, which silence the Arab narrative using legal actions."