Opinion

In Israeli Left-wing Activist's Arrest, Court Dances to the Tune of Settler Incitement

Michael Sfard
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Left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak behind bars in a police vehicle, January 7, 2020.
Left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak behind bars in a police vehicle, January 7, 2020. Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon‎
Michael Sfard

The left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak was arrested Monday. Undercover officers came to his workplace, informed him that he was under arrest, handcuffed him and put him in a police car. They were acting on the instruction of Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Dov Pollock. Pollock had Pollak arrested for failing to appear in court to answer a private criminal complaint filed against Pollak and two fellow activists by the Ad Kan espionage and infiltration organization. In signing the injurious and superfluous warrant, the judge gave Ad Kan a rare win and once again made the judiciary an important collaborator of the anti-democratic right in its persecution of the ideological left, which is steadfast in its refusal to accept the crime of the occupation.

Before I continue, fair disclosure: Jonathan Pollak is a haver, friend, in the sense of comrade, a brother in the struggle, A man I greatly admire and from whom I have learned much over the years we have each been activists, he in the field and I in the courts.

Disclosure No. 2: I scorn Ad Kan and am busy rebuffing its attacks on my clients, with notable success. The entire existence of this organization – famed for planting spies in groups like Ta’ayush and Breaking the Silence and for entangling journalists into sensationalist headlines, that turn out to be groundless, about supposed grave security offenses by anti-occupation activists – depends on its right-wing political patrons being in positions of power.

In other words, as soon as the settler-right regime ends, the organization will vanish into oblivion: It can’t survive without access to the government power centers that give it a platform and influence. Ad Kan is one of the mutant civil society organizations that have taken root here recently, which act on behalf of the government and largely in coordination with it, to make the strong stronger and to weaken and silence the weak and the minority. This is the organization the honorable judge gifted Pollak’s arrest.

As Ad Kan’s modus operandi for achieving its goals is incitement against and harassment of its rivals, baseless legal proceedings are a part of its repertoire. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a more injurious and ludicrous legal proceeding than the organization’s complaint accusing the three activists of – get this – assaulting soldiers and Border Police officers during protests in the West Bank Palestinian villages of Bil’in and Na’alin. Ad Kan, which has so far failed in its numerous attempts to spur a criminal investigation of Breaking the Silence and seems to have failed to cause an investigation of Pollak and his fellow activists, has taken on the role of the state prosecution through a private criminal complaint. This instrument allows private parties to pursue a criminal proceeding regarding a limited range of minor offenses and in situations where the dominant interest is private, such as disputes between neighbors or business competitors.

The filing of a criminal complaint by someone who is not the victim of the alleged act, and when the accusation concerns injury to soldiers, says much more about the complainant than it does about the defendant. It indicates that the complainant views himself as synonymous with the state and is tasked with the mission of defending the security forces and national honor. But besides bringing up interesting issues about Ad Kan’s psychology, this complaint is a blatant example of the misuse of legal proceedings in order to goad a political adversary and as such it threatens to turn the court into the pawn of a political camp.

Actually, in this case the threat has already come to pass. The moment Pollock agreed to hear the complaint rather than dismissing it outright and ordering Ad Kan to pay court costs for this outrageous maneuver; the moment he convened one session after another and agreed to treat the complaint as a legal document rather than rip apart its crude threads and expose it for what it really is – a political manifest more suited to a flyer distributed on the street – he allowed Ad Kan to turn the court into hammer held aloft that moves in concert with its activists’ whims.

So yes, Pollak did defy the court when he announced to the world that he would not attend the hearings (“Why I Won’t Attend My Trial for Alleged Assault on Israeli Police in West Bank,” Haaretz, June 12, 2019), and judges are sticklers about showing respect for their honor and for the judicial system. But a judge’s sense of affront is not a valid pretext for arrest. In fact, the history of courageous rulings that advanced human rights and democratic values is filled with “not nice” petitioners and defendants whose rights were nonetheless protected. Well before Pollak failed to appear in court, the complaint was an inherently flawed legal act, and an arrest that is based upon an improper proceeding amounts to false arrest.

Gaby Lasky, the lawyer representing Pollak’s fellow defendants, filed a motion to stay the proceedings with the attorney general. If the postponement is granted, it would go some way toward undoing the damage caused to the justice system as a result of its consenting to dance to the tune of the persecutors of left-wing activists.

Michael Sfard, a human-rights lawyer representing numerous Palestinian and Israeli organizations, is the legal adviser of Breaking the Silence.

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