Police in Service to the Right Wing

Haaretz Editorial
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Security cameras at Haaretz capture the arrest, January 6, 2020.
Haaretz Editorial

On Monday, undercover police officers waited for left-wing activist Jonathan Pollak at his workplace, Haaretz, and arrested him. His arrest resulted from a private criminal complaint submitted by the right-wing organization Ad Kan. Specifically, he was arrested because he didn’t show up for court hearings on his case. Since then, for the past two days, he has been in detention, because he refused to post bail of 500 shekels ($145).

Even though Pollak’s arrest stemmed from his refusal to attend court hearings, and while his continued detention effectively depends solely on him and his willingness to post bail, this arrest must be seen as a clear case of political persecution by the right-wing organization Ad Kan, in which the court and the police volunteered to serve as the group’s operational arm.

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The private criminal complaint that Ad Kan submitted in 2018 charged that Pollak assaulted soldiers during demonstrations in the West Bank. Following this, in an unprecedented move, legal proceedings were opened against him. This is total legal chaos.

Clearly, anyone who witnesses an assault is entitled and even obliged to contact the police. The police will look into it, decide whether to open a formal investigation and then, based on its recommendations, the prosecution will decide whether to file an indictment.

But it’s inconceivable for an organization to take over the roles of the police and prosecution by filing a personal criminal suit against an individual. Ad Kan is out of place opening private criminal proceedings against anyone it believes is harming the state, the Israel Defense Forces or the flag.

A private criminal complaint isn’t the right way to resolve political disputes. It is meant to enable individuals to launch criminal proceedings to protect their own personal interests, which are of no interest to the public (for instance, a dispute between neighbors or a business rivalry).

The interests of IDF soldiers – their protection, their honor, the state’s honor – are national interests. Moreover, it’s the state’s duty to defend its soldiers against civilians who attack them – for instance, settlers and the so-called “hilltop youth.” The legal system must not lend a hand to turning a private criminal complaint into a tool of political persecution by a right-wing organization that is appropriating national interests to itself.

Pollak’s attorney, Gaby Lasky, asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to order a stay of proceedings, but six months have passed since then, and he still hasn’t issued a decision. “It’s very rare to infringe on a person’s freedom on the basis of a case stemming from a private criminal complaint,” she stressed.

Lasky is right. If there is evidence against Pollak, the prosecution should file an indictment. Until then, it must make it clear to Ad Kan that Israel hasn’t yet privatized its prosecution, and it doesn’t need outside volunteers serving as self-appointed state prosecutors.

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