The Haifa District Court convicted Roman Levitan of involvement in a brutal assault in Or Akiva during the war with Gaza in May 2021. According to the court, Levitan and a group of other rioters attacked A.A., a resident of Jisr al-Zarqa, while the victim was already lying on the ground wounded and bleeding, just because he was an Arab.
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Despite this, the court convicted Levitan only of attempted aggravated assault and carrying a knife, while acquitting him on the charge of actual aggravated assault and also on the charge of committing an “act of terror.” (See news story, page 3).
Levitan’s acquittal on the terrorism charge is extremely strange. The court said that even if we assume the attack was committed for nationalist reasons, the mens rea, or criminal intent, necessary to turn it into an act of terror didn’t exist. It’s astounding that the court described Levitan’s racist, nationalist motive as purely hypothetical when there’s not even the shadow of a doubt that this was his motive, and that it therefore felt compelled to state unequivocally that the mens rea didn’t exist.
No less ridiculous was the court’s conclusion that the prosecution failed to prove the attack was committed with the goal of sowing fear or panic – a necessary condition for an act to be considered one of terror. After all, what did the perpetrators of this assault, especially the racists among them like Levitan, want if not to sow fear and panic among the particular population group to which the victim belonged? One has to be very disconnected from reality not to realize this.
Moreover, the law states that the goal of sowing fear or panic doesn’t have to be the sole or even main purpose of the act for it to be terroristic. According to many court rulings, even if the defendant doesn’t seek to spread fear, but is merely aware that he is very likely to do so, that is sufficient. Based on this interpretation, Levitan ought to have been convicted of an act of terror even if sowing fear was only a secondary goal, or even if he merely foresaw that this was very likely to be the result.
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But the most troubling part of the verdict is its unstated message – that the words “terrorism” and “Jews” can never go together. Whereas “Arabs” and “terrorism” are viewed as a natural combination in Israel, regardless of what the Arabs actually do, any attempt to ascribe terrorism to Jews runs into a wall, as if it were a contradiction in terms. That was precisely the line the government adopted during the interethnic riots that accompanied the May 2021 war – that there was no resemblance between the Jewish riots and the Arab riots. Now the court has echoed that line of thinking. Terrorism is only for Arabs, and equality before the law will remain a mere decoration in our law books.