Israel Seeks 12-year Jail Term for Blogger Accused of Slandering Public Officials

The exceptional indictment contains 120 accusations against Lori Shem-Tov and others; the prosecutors apparently see this as a test case for online shaming

Supporters of Lori Shem-Tov demonstrate for her release, 2018.
Nehama Dar

Israel's state prosecutor is seeking a 12-year prison sentence for blogger Lori Shem-Tov, who is accused of crimes including invasion of privacy and insulting civil servants, among them judges, in online publications.

At one meeting that Shem-Tov's attorney held to discuss a plea bargain with Tel Aviv District Attorney officials, prosecutors reportedly insisted that she serve at least 10 years in prison. The district attorney’s office denied that report.

The indictment filed in April 2017 against Shem-Tov, along with fellow blogger Moti Leybel and attorney Zvi Zer, is unusual in scope. Covering 231 pages, it includes 120 accusations concerning internet activity. The three are accused of serious offenses of conspiracy to commit various crimes against social welfare, law enforcement and judicial officials; invasion of privacy; sexual harassment; insulting a civil servant; contempt of court; and violating gag orders relating to publicizing the names and images of minors.

Shem-Tov and Leybel are also accused of blackmailing a private lawyer to cut a deal with them, and threatened her that they would continue defaming her if she wouldn’t oblige them.

A Haaretz inquiry revealed that the punishment the prosecution seeks is far more severe than in similar cases in the past. Whistleblower Rafi Rotem, who sought to reveal corruption in the Israel Tax Authority, received a suspended sentence after being convicted of 20 counts of harassing 14 complainants over many years, and 15 counts of insulting a civil servant.

Moreover, the prosecution charged social activists Barak Cohen and Eran Vered, who targeted the banking system, with extortion – but they reached a plea bargain, including for offenses that included invasion of privacy. A punishment was not agreed upon.

Hit-and-run driver Tal Mor, who ran over and killed a motorcyclist, received 12 years in prison.

By contrast, in a number of cases in which the charges were more serious than those levelled at Shem-Tov, the state prosecution sought much lighter sentences. Recently, it reached a plea bargain with a minor who was involved in planning the terror attack in the West Bank village of Duma, in which three members of the Dawabshe family were murdered. As part of the deal, the minor admitted to arson and racist incitement, and prosecutors agreed not to call for more than five and a half years' imprisonment.

An investment banker for Bank Leumi who defrauded a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor and stole hundreds of thousands of shekels from her reached a plea deal with the prosecution to serve six months of community service. In the case of Avigad Sandler, who confessed to and was convicted of trading in body parts and exploiting the economic distress of donors for illegal transplants in Kosovo and Azerbaijan – the state prosecution asked for a three-year sentence.

Einat Harel, who was convicted in a plea deal with the prosecution of pimping and running two brothels, was sentenced to 44 months in prison.

A test case

In the new case involving Shem-Tov and her codefendants, the indictment accuses them of seeking “to harass and invade the privacy” of officials involved in custody battles. Over two years ago, Shem-Tov first targeted Judge Naftali Shilo, former head of the Tel Aviv Family Law Court, who was since promoted to the district court level, after he deprived her of custody of her children despite positive assessments of her that were presented to him. She published articles attacking his behavior and that of social workers dealing with her case.

Although her alleged offenses border on freedom of expression and are considered less than criminal in substance, the state prosecution filed its indictment in district court and not in a magistrate’s court, where the maximum sentence is seven years.

The prosecutors apparently see this as a test case to augment punishment for online shaming. They also sought to keep the accused in custody until the end of proceedings, which until now has been a policy reserved for suspects who pose a danger to public safety.

Just last month the court ordered the release of Shem-Tov, who was arrested in February 2017, after she served 27 months in jail. Leybel and Zer were released after being incarcerated for nine months.

While the prosecution refers to the case as the “web terror case” or “bloggers case,” Shem-Tov and her supporters call it the “avenging judges case.” One-quarter of the approximately 100 complainants are judges at various levels in the court system. Shem-Tov allegedly called one a “feminazi judge” and "a crazy slut." Another judge said that at a protest in front of her house, demonstrators told her lawyers that she was “welfare’s rubber stamp.” Yet another judge complained that Shem-Tov wrote that she “received the ISIS prize for efficient elimination of parents.”

District Court Judge Benny Sagi slapped a gag order on the names of all the complainants in the Shem-Tov case, at the request of the state prosecutor. Some 20 witnesses have testified behind closed doors to date. Shem-Tov had also argued about the way the public defender's office has represented her, and Judge Sagi discharged her defenders of their duties last week. She is now representing herself and Zer.

The prosecution commented, “The figures mentioned here were not provided by the prosecution. Moreover, we cannot comment on negotiations with defense lawyers.”