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Green Light to Go After Leftists

Haaretz Editorial
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Journalist Israel Frey last year.
Journalist Israel Frey last year.Credit: Moti Milrod
Haaretz Editorial

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Netanyahu/Ben-Gvir government will be the most ultranationalist government in Israel’s history. The government hasn’t even been formed yet, but both in the streets and in state institutions, some people already seem to have altered their mindset to match it.

On Monday, ultra-Orthodox journalist and commentator Israel Frey was summoned for questioning after a complaint was filed over his tweets. The specific pretext for the summons was something he tweeted in September. Frey says that due to this tweet, he was even fired last week by DemocraTV, where he worked.

He posted the tweet in question after police caught a Palestinian in Jaffa’s Clock Square with a bomb and gun in his possession. The Palestinian admitted that he planned to carry out a terror attack in Tel Aviv, and Frey praised him for having “looked for legitimate targets and avoided harming the innocent,” even terming him a “hero.”

As in every regime that persecutes its citizens and silences its opponents, in Israel, too, political opinions that run counter to the prevailing mood are suppressed, with help from informants. And indeed, the complaint against Frey was submitted by the B’tsalmo organization, whose profession is persecuting leftists. The complaint alleged that the tweet constituted incitement to terror and violence as well as encouragement and praise of terrorism.

This accusation is ridiculous. Frey’s tweet isn’t incitement to terror and violence, and it’s protected by freedom of expression. That should be especially true in a society as divided and polarized as Israel’s, where the conversation is always tense and rife with racism, generalizations and regular calls for shedding Palestinian and leftist blood.

In a democratic country, there are no grounds for criminalizing people over remarks that aren’t explicit threats or incitement to violence and putting them on trial over tweets. But in countries where democracy is under assault by the government, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are the first to be harmed. And that’s what is happening in Israel as well.

If so, it’s no surprise that the man slated to become national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, rushed to give the police his backing. The man who is the face of the new government even said on Tuesday that Frey is a supporter of terror. It’s hard to think of a better symbol of Israel’s degeneration – a student of the racist Meir Kahane, an admirer of the murderer Baruch Goldstein, a Kach activist who threatened former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before his assassination, a man who has been indicted dozens of times and convicted eight times, is the one now deciding what is allowed and what isn’t, what is legitimate and what isn’t.

The investigation of Frey is another warning light for Israeli democracy. Even though Ben-Gvir is the man who will soon be supervising them, police would be wise to leave Frey alone and not summon him for questioning again.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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