Israel Police Officers Suing Civilians for Social-media Shaming to Get Legal Aid

Police commissioner planning to appoint a committee to examine how other organizations handle harassment of policemen on social networks

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, March 21, 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh plans to appoint a committee to examine granting legal aid to policemen who file civil suits against individuals for “shaming” them on the social networks, in addition to filing criminal charges against them.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit authorized Alsheikh to appoint the committee, which will also look into setting up a police defense agency to help policemen who are sued by individuals or, in some cases, by the Police Internal Investigations Department in the Justice Ministry.

The committee will also check how other organizations deal with offensive Internet posts and how much legal aid they grant those subjected to it. For example, the committee will examine how the army handles cases of offensive posts against soldiers who were documented by social activists in demonstrations against the separation fence.

Judge (ret.) Ilan Schiff, former deputy president of the Haifa District Court, will chair the committee, which will also consist of Military Advocate General Mike Balas, who formerly served as deputy attorney general, and outgoing police operations chief, Deputy Commissioner Aharon Aksol. The committee will submit its recommendations to Alsheikh.

The decision to set up the committee followed several complaints by policemen regarding offensive posts against them on social networks. In one case, social activist attorney Barak Cohen posted a video on Facebook and YouTube about a police intelligence officer named Alon Hamdani. In the clip Cohen sings: “A green-eyed snake patrols the streets, gathering and harassing, eating people up. He has no uniform, no laws and no God as he mercilessly strikes all the children. Hamdani is a minor cop, an intelligence officer for the regime.”

The clip received thousands of views and Cohen was sued for insulting a civil servant and hindering a police officer while carrying out his duty. He was convicted by the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court last week.

Currently, the police can open criminal investigations against people who upload offensive posts against policemen, if the offense pertains to the policeman’s duty. However, in recent years numerous policemen have complained of being harassed outside work hours and around their home by people wishing to punish them for acts taken against them.

At the same time, in many cases activists and individuals have filmed policemen breaking the law and violating regulations in their encounters with members of the public. In some cases these films led to the policemen’s dismissal. In others, the internal investigations department opened investigations against them.