Israeli Man Charged With Arson Attacks on Jewish Religious Institutions

Zion Cohen, 68, is accused of torching six institutions, including the Tel Aviv rabbinical court, in a bid to separate religion and state in Israel

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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The 2005 fire at the Tel Aviv rabbinical court.
The 2005 fire at the Tel Aviv rabbinical court.Credit: Moti Kimche
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

A 68-year-old Golan Heights resident was charged in Central District Court on Sunday with acts of arson and planting of explosives at religious councils and rabbinical courts around the country in an effort to stop them from providing religious services to secular Israelis.

According to the indictment in the case, Zion Cohen of Kibbutz Merom Golan was motivated by a desire to bring about a separation of religion and state in Israel.

The charges include arson, the manufacture and possession of weaponry and attempted destruction of property with explosive material. The prosecution has asked that Cohen be held in custody for the duration of his case. A woman arrested with him last month was released without further restrictions.

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The indictment states that in January 2019, Cohen began visiting religious institutions around the country while posing as a homeless person, and that he collected information about the facilities and took a course on lockpicking. He also allegedly tried out various incendiary substances and purchased and made equipment to carry out his plans.

In May, according to the charges, he again posed as a homeless person and planted 12 incendiary devices and flammable materials at six religious institutions – the rabbinical court and religious councils in Tel Aviv and in Kfar Sava; the rabbinical court in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva; and the religious council in the southern port city of Ashdod. On May 17, he allegedly activated the devices in the middle of the night, causing tens of thousands of shekels’ worth of damage.

Cohen is also charged with a 2005 arson attack at the Tel Aviv rabbinical court that caused an estimated 2.7 million shekels ($780,000) in losses including damage to a first-floor reception area and to document archives.

In requesting that Cohen remain in custody, the prosecution wrote that he “didn’t spare any means” and without regard to the law broke into religious institutions and carried out simultaneous attacks at a number of institutions. His actions and the extensive planning involved demonstrate the danger that he poses and the “exceptional daring” that he showed, the prosecution said. “By a miracle, this event ended in property damage alone and only by happenstance were the entire buildings not burned and casualties caused.”

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