Israel's Central District Court overturned a lower court ruling on Wednesday and convicted a resident of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar of incitement to violence and insulting a public servant for stating in a social media post that Jewish religious law, or halakha, permits the killing of a soldier.
The ruling came after the state had appealed last year's acquittal of Nahum Shalom Ariel, 26, by the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court.
Following the evacuation of buildings constructed without authorization in Yitzhar in 2014, Ariel wrote a post in a social media group for settlement residents that “there is no halakhic problem killing a soldier during a nighttime evacuation.” The Yitzharnikim social media forum has some 200 members.
In a separate post that made reference to a police officer involved in the evacuation, Ariel wrote: “That scoundrel’s name is N.S., a religious dog who just took part in arresting one of the residents of our community.”
According to the indictment in the case, Ariel was responding to comments made by another Yitzhar resident who had written that she was in favor of throwing stones at Jews, even if it resulted in the killing of an Israeli soldier.
“There’s no halakhic problem in killing a soldier during a nighttime evacuation,” Ariel wrote, along with a reference to a concept under Jewish religious law relating to killing a thief who comes to steal property by stealth rather than openly. On the charge of insulting a public servant, the prosecution relied on a photograph that Ariel had posted on Facebook of the police officer.
In granting the state’s appeal of Ariel’s acquittal, the district court ruled that it was only his purported halakhic justification in support of the comments posted by another resident that constituted incitement to violence.
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“Such remarks … can only be interpreted as a call to violence and the ‘real possibility’ that the call would lead to violence is clear,” the court stated.
On the charge of insulting a public servant, the district court ruled that expressions such as “scoundrel” and “religious dog” and particularly a reference to “the torturing of Jews” who were being evicted, in reference to a police officer acting in the line of duty, “goes to the heart of the policeman’s dignity.”
The court noted the use of a photo of the officer and a call to share the post. It also reversed a ruling by Magistrate’s Court Judge Oded Moreno, who in presiding over Ariel’s trial found that the defendant had been subject to selective enforcement of the law.
Last year, at the trial, Moreno also accepted defense arguments that Ariel had not incited to violence or insulted a public servant. Moreno found that the defendant had not led a call to violence at his own initiative and that he had no particular social standing or status as an authority on religious law in the social media group to which he had posted comments.