Head to Head / MK Zeev Elkin, Is the State Prosecutor Conducting a Political Witch Hunt?

Over the last two weeks, Knesset member and coalition chairman Zeev Elkin (Likud ) has been sharply criticizing the state prosecutor's office and the police for detaining Rabbi Dov Lior and now Rabbi Yaakov Yosef for questioning, because of their endorsement of the book Torat Hamelekh, which allegedly justifies the killing of non-Jews.

In two weeks, the Knesset is expected to ratify the second and third readings of a law Elkin proposed, which would impose sanctions on persons or companies that called for economic, academic or cultural boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements.

MK Zeev Elkin
Tomer Appelbaum

MK Zeev Elkin, is the state prosecutor conducting a political witch hunt against rabbis Dov Lior and Yaakov Yosef?

I think that the prosecutor's office is carrying out a ridiculous investigation, unparalleled in comparison with others in the area of incitement. The investigation is creating very hard feelings with regard to equality before the law and lopsided law enforcement, and engenders tough responses from the public to the entire process.

In your opinion, is there a kind of thought police operating in Israel that hounds people for their ideas?

I believe that today, to question rabbinical endorsements of publications of religious texts is ridiculous, mainly because it is doubtful that these rabbis even read the book they endorsed. When you compare these investigations to similar ones, you discover that the prosecutor's office and the police are not investigating other people who commit crimes of incitement, and make direct public statements to this effect in daily life. I don't recall investigations of preachers in mosques who endorse violent actions or participation in armed struggle against Israeli citizens. The attorney general's office is not dealing with this, and yet, paradoxically, it decided to go all the way with a book about religious law, and interrogate the people who wrote endorsements in the introduction and not the book itself. To me, this is ridiculous.

Aren't you concerned that your remarks on the side of the rabbis and against the investigation might damage the rule of law? Won't these remarks deepen the gap between the followers of these rabbis and Israeli government institutions?

Unequivocally, there is no damage here to the rule of law. It is exactly the unequal or unfair enforcement of law that damages the legitimacy of the rule of law. I don't blame the police for carrying out the investigation. Once the state prosecutor made the decision, the police had to investigate. But the decision to detain Rabbi Lior, an 80-year-old rabbi, while he was riding in a car, as if he were James Bond, was improper. It was possible to knock on his door, the way one knocks on the doors of an ordinary person, and say, "We've come to question you." In Lior's case, the questioning took less than an hour. In the case of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, it took even less. We're not talking about an in-depth investigation but something symbolic.

Nonetheless, it appears that criticism of the interrogation is being heard mainly from one sector of the political map; there is no collective call against the actions of the prosecutor's office.

The problem is not Rabbi Dov Lior, who received pretty favorable publicity in the wake of the questioning, and also not the book 'Torat Hamelekh,' whose sales picked up significantly afterwards. The problem is that significant damage has been caused to belief in the government's rule of law. I heard people on the left who said they thought questioning Rabbi Lior was ridiculous. When I asked them why they didn't say this publicly, they responded that if they were asked, they would.

A group of intellectuals yesterday called for the resignation of MK David Rotem, who signed, along with you, a letter to the Justice Minister expressing opposition to Shai Nitzan's staff that deals with law enforcement in the territories. What do you think of this demand?

I think that all these people who talk a lot about freedom of speech are the first who should have sided with the rabbis and said that they think the matter was not worth investigating. Intellectuals should not only be concerned about their own freedom of speech. The system of government by rule of law in a democracy should be criticized by the Knesset. And so, if Knesset members have criticism, they should voice it. That's why the Knesset exists. The positions of [these intellectuals] did not win expression in the Knesset. The public decided differently and so these law abiding citizens must honor that democratic decision. It seems to me that these same people who speak in favor of the freedom of speech and defending democracy should be the first to honor other opinions even if they find them very disturbing.

You initiated the proposed boycott law, which determines sanctions for those who instigate economic, academic or cultural boycotts against Israel. The law includes Israeli settlements as well. What are the chances of this law passing when it is voted on in two weeks?

In my opinion there will be a fairly solid majority supporting it. The government has promised its backing. It's true that negotiations were not simple during the drafting of the law and it has undergone many changes in order to gain the government's support. This law is much weaker than the corresponding American law which sets very heavy fines and possible jail time of one to four years for participation in a boycott against Israel. An embarrassing situation has been created in which an Israeli citizen who calls for the owners of an American company to boycott Israel is not punished due to the lack of an Israeli law on the matter, while the owners of an American company who call for such a boycott will be punished. We cannot ask our allies in America and Germany to defend us more than we defend ourselves.

What is the difference between a call for a consumer boycott of cottage cheese and a boycott of the settlements and their products because of an ideological point of view?

The boycott law rests on a demographic basis. All of Israel: Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria too. It is meant to deal with the demographic boycott based on belonging to a country, and not because of a consumer struggle. There is no reason to punish Israeli intellectuals active inside Israel, just because of policies made by the government. For the same reason, there is no reason to punish a law abiding citizen who lives in Maaleh Adumim just because he decided to live there. Whoever does not like the presence of Jews in Judea and Samaria is welcome to try to create a majority in the Knesset and pass a decision like the disengagement [from Gaza]. But as long as the people who live there are Israeli citizens, they have equal rights. Not only have they not broken the law, they also responded to an explicit call from the government on the matter.