A resident of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar was acquitted from charges of incitement to violence and insulting a civil servant over posts he published on social media in 2014, resisting evacuation of Jewish settlements.
According to the indictment filed in the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court, Nahum Ariel, 25, wrote that “there isn’t a single prohibition in halakha [Jewish law] against killing a soldier conducting a nighttime eviction.” He was responding to the removal of residents from illegally constructed buildings in his settlement.
In another post, alongside a picture of a policeman, Ariel wrote, “This scumbag is called N.S. He’s a religious dog who just took part in the arrest of a woman from our settlement.”
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But Judge Oded Moreno accepted this month the defense’s arguments that Ariel’s posts did not constitute incitement or a criminal insult to a public servant. He also accepted its argument that Ariel was the victim of selective enforcement.
“I agree that the defendant’s statements are difficult, even very difficult,” Moreno wrote. “I’ll also add that in the court’s view, they are nauseating. Nevertheless, I think this is one of the important tests faced by a sitting judge – to know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
Moreno added that he does not think Ariel’s words are likely to incite someone to actual violence, and that there is no factual basis needed to convict him of the crime. The suspect, he said, did not call for acts of violence himself, nor does he have any particular halakhic or social standing in his circles to make that call.
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But Moreno did not curb his criticism of Ariel: “The suspect, a man who day and night wraps himself up in the blanket of liberty, freedom and protection afforded to him by the security forces, and spends his time in philosophical and halakhic discussions on the question of whether or not it is acceptable to hurt or kill them, is an ungrateful man who gives evil in return for the good” he has received, he wrote.
The indictment said that in 2014, the army and police evicted settlers from illegal buildings in Yitzhar, and then demolished the structures. The settlers responded with violence. At the time, around 200 members of the settlement belonged to a Facebook group called “Yitzharnikim,” where they held internal discussions.
After one member of the group wrote that she supported throwing stones at Jews even if it resulted in a soldier being killed, Ariel responded, “There’s no halakhic problem with killing a soldier during a nighttime eviction. I really haven’t found anyone who can explain why this doesn’t follow the law of the thief who comes secretly,” a halakhic law that does not hold a person guilty for killing a thieving intruder.
Ariel’s attorney, Eli Benaya of the Public Defender’s Office, said that nothing in Ariel’s post actually calls for people to commit violence; it merely expressed Ariel’s view of what Jewish law has to say on the matter. He also argued that the phrase “religious dog” is not an insult to a civil servant, but legitimate political criticism.
Benaya hailed the decision as a win for freedom of speech and democracy. “Censorship of ideas is unacceptable in an open society, but there are times when it is carried out selectively, and only against those whose opinions are not accepted by the prosecution.”