Artist Natali Cohen Vaxberg, who made headlines a year ago over for her video in which she appears defecating on an Israeli flag (among other flags), was taken in for police questioning for the fifth time earlier this month.
She has not been charged with any crime in connection with the video she posted online. In November of last year, after the video was posted, she was taken into police custody overnight in Tel Aviv. A judge ordered her placed under house arrest for two days at the time and ordered her computer and cellphone impounded for three months, along with a 30-day ban on her accessing the Internet.
No criminal charges were filed in the case, although she has since been summoned to appear before the police twice and police visited her at home twice without prior notice to take her in for additional questioning, most recently the week before last.
Cohen Vaxberg said police have told her that she is suspected of debasing symbols of government and religion and of harming public sensibilities. A law passed in 1949 makes it crime to "do harm to the dignity of the state flag or the state symbol."
"In the most recent questioning, they asked me about my picture with a teddy bear wrapped with an Israeli flag that looks like I am about to defecate on it. They asked what the message of the picture was. I said it seemed clear to me and I didn't intend to explain. They asked whether I remembered when I posted the picture, and I said I didn't remember and that they should ask the bear. Even the policeman couldn't help laughing."
Cohen Vexberg acknowledged that the questioning that she has undergone has not been aggressive, although she said the police interrogators have at times been insistent in their questioning. In the most recent questioning this month, she said the police also showed an interest in her YouTube video channel and her Facebook fan page.
For its part, the Israel Police issued a statement saying: "The suspect was questioned about a week ago regarding an incident over which there is suspicion of the commission of the offense of harming state symbols. The investigation has been concluded and the file has been transferred for review by the criminal complaint department."
When asked by Haaretz why Cohen Vexberg had been questioned repeatedly and whether she would be indicted, the police replied: "Any time there is suspicion of the commission of a crime, it is investigated," and the decision over whether to file criminal charges is "subject to the discretion of the criminal complaint department." The evidence has been gathered and transferred for a decision to be made, the police added.
"It appears that the police are uncomfortable with Cohen Vexberg's work. It looks like a campaign of persecution and scare tactics," said Gaby Lasky, who is a Meretz member of Tel Aviv city council, a lawyer and a human rights expert. "I suggest the police file an indictment or go study art to understand that criticism comes in all kinds of forms, and then maybe they will stop pushing her around. It's not reasonable to bring someone in for questioning so many times based on that set of facts."
Lasky said the number of times that anyone has been charged with harming the Israeli flag is very small and for her part, filing criminal charges over such a matter was ill-advised.
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