Israel suppresses freedom of speech
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) is stunned by and strongly criticizes the detention by Israeli police of the ZOA Director in Israel, Jeff Daube, and two activists, Susie Dym and Yehudit Dassberg (who lost a daughter and son-in-law to Arab terrorists), on the evening of January 9th in front of the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem. Mr. Daube was standing, along with a number of other pro-Israel activists, on a public street in front of the Dan Hotel where the foreign press corps covering President Bushs visit was based and were attempting to engage the correspondents in polite conversation about the immoderate nature of Fatah and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah constitution still calls for Israel’s destruction and terrorism while its members have murdered and maimed hundreds of Israelis.
In order to buttress their case, they distributed a fact-based report about Fatah. It is important to note that this well-documented, rigorous report deals exclusively with the Fatah/Abbas tolerance and promotion of terrorism and at no point does it make any reference whatsoever to Israel response or lack thereof. It is the very antithesis of a seditious document. Nevertheless, a police officer confiscated one of the reports and after a perfunctory perusal deemed it seditious and inciteful.
The group was told to not stand on the public street in front of the main entrance to the hotel and to go to the corners of the street. Mr. Daube immediately did so while a couple of other activists continued to engage the police in conversation regarding their civil rights and freedom of speech in the public domain. When asked why the group was being asked to move, the police officer responded, Because I feel like it. One activist engaged a cameraman from Fox News in conversation, handed him the report and was told that he was going to show it to his producer when Police Superintendant Chaim Moshe came over and summarily confiscated it from the cameraman and told the activists they were not allowed to stand there and talk with the Journalists.
Mr. Daube was standing at the corner for about twenty minutes, as previously instructed, when another police officer approached him, abruptly told him to come with him and took his Israeli ID card. He was then told to get into a police car with two other activists without any explanation as to why he was being detained by any of the officers. Susie Dym said Police Superintendent Chaim Moshe told her if she didn’t “come along quietly” that they would use “considerable force” against her. In the police car one of the activists informed the others the policeman told her that the material was found to be seditious and the police thought that they were a public nuisance. Nothing could be further from the truth. A close reading of the report finds not one iota of sedition and the individuals conducted themselves in an extremely civil and professional manner.
When one of the activists in the car tried to question the officers about the nature of the detention, the officers refused to respond and refused to provide their names and ID. Upon arrival at the Russian Compound police headquarters, Mr. Daube and the other detainees were told to stay in a waiting area but no further action was taken. This was an extremely stressful environment and the lack of communication from the police only exacerbated an already tense situation. Finally, after approximately one hour and a number of phone calls the police handed back the ID cards and the detainees were told not to go anywhere near the Dan Panorama Hotel during the Bush visit, with or without the so-called offensive material. The detainees were not questioned, nor were they asked to present their side of the events. They were not asked to sign anything, nor were they given any further explanation regarding the reason for their detainment other than a brief statement to one of the activists who was arrested as opposed to only being detained for the other two.
A member of the Israeli Knesset Dr. Arieh Eldad spoke out saying, “The arrests and detention clearly violated the activists’ freedom to speech and expression, any police officer who violated the law by harassing activists should face criminal charges.” Eldad called for the police to “allow the distribution of material to journalists and not to act like the police in a totalitarian state.”
After his release, ZOA’s Jeff Daube stated, I am struck by the polices total arbitrary and capricious behavior in this incident. After having read and heard about these types of police actions, and now having experienced it first-hand, I can only say that I am saddened by the fact that the police force of the Jewish State employs tactics which would be expected in some other countries — not Israel.
“There has been an unprecedented outpouring of support for me and my fellow activists from Israelis who are appalled by this type of harassment and utter disregard for basic civil rights. The ZOA is encouraged by this response which evinces a better understanding by the people of the right to exercise free speech than was demonstrated by law enforcement officials.
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “The ZOA is deeply concerned about the status of basic civil liberties in Israel. The right to assemble, petition, and speak out in opposition, whether from the left or right, are rights that should be a sine qua non in any democratic country. We all remember too well the arrest and imprisonment of protesters, including teenagers, against the Gaza withdrawal and the harsh tactics used by Israeli police against the protestors at Amona, causing even two members of the Israeli Knesset to seek treatment at a hospital, one suffering a concussion and the other a broken thumb.
“We are requesting an apology to the Israelis, including Jeff Daube, Susie Dym, and Jehudit Dassberg, whose freedom of speech and assembly rights were violated and who were improperly detained, and to the ZOA from the Israeli Police Superintendent Chaim Moshe.
“The ZOA also calls upon the government of Israel, especially Avi Dichter, Minister of Internal Security, to conduct a thorough reassessment of the Israeli Police Departments training regarding respect for the rights of the citizen. A police officer is mandated with the responsibility to enforce the rule of law. Indeed, it is only when a police officers behavior, as well, is guided by the rule of law that we will perhaps reach a point where these types of incidents will no longer occur.”
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