English Translation: Yoana Gonen & Kol Milah Translators
English Editing: Ryan Shandler, Zoe Beaudry
זכויות האדם בישראל – תמונת מצב 2014 With thanks to:
Everyone at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, upon whose work and writing this report is based, and who read, commented and assisted in providing data and information. Special thanks to: Attorney Rawia Aburabia, Attorney Sharon Abraham-Weiss, Rami Adut, Rotem Ilan, Attorney Sharona Eliahu-Chai, Attorney Dana Alexander, Attorney Auni Banna, Attorney Maskit Bendel, Attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo, Attorney Gil Gan-Mor, Attorney Raghad Jaraisy, Shada Zoabi, Sharaf Hassan, Attorney Tal Hassin, Attorney Dan Yakir, Attorney Reut Cohen, Nirit Moskovich, Attorney Lila Margalit, Attorney Tali Nir, Attorney Anne Suciu, Ronit Sela, Ehud Uziel, Attorney Nisreen Alyan, Attorney Avner Pinchuk, Rachel Fisch Ben-Israel, Attorney Tamar Feldman, Attorney Oded Feller, Noa Rivlin, Gili Re'i.
To Sarit Eliya for helping to collect data and for distributing the report, and to Ofra Talkar for her help in distribution.
To Edan Arazi from Project Gila – the Movement for Transgender Empowerment; Attorney Michal Tadjer from Kav LaOved; to the volunteers from Machsom Watch – Avital Toch, Dafne Banai and the Jordan Valley team, Sylvia Peterman and the Police and GSS team; Itai Svirsky from Koach LaOvdim; and to all the organizations who took the time to contribute materials to this report.
To all of ACRI's members, volunteers, donors and activists – it is because of your commitment, values and generosity that we are able to continue with our work.
This report is published thanks to the support of the New Israel Fund of Canada.
December 2014 Table of Contents
In a democratic country, the information held by government authorities ultimately belongs to its citizens, and its disclosure is required both to monitor and supervise the authorities, and to secure the public’s trust in them. Administrative transparency is essential for democratic discourse about issues on the public agenda and in order to guarantee the right of every citizen to formulate an opinion and have influence public policy. According to the Freedom of Information Law (1988), every citizen has the right to obtain information from public authorities concerning issues of both public and private interest. The law also obliges the authorities to publish their standard rules of operation (“administrative regulations”) and annual activity reports, and to appoint a freedom of information supervisor, who is responsible for handling freedom of information requests. 69
he events of the summer of 2014, and what followed in its wake, marked a fault line - some might say even an earthquake - in Israeli society. On June 12, three Jewish teenagers - Gilad Sha'er, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Frenkel - were abducted in the West Bank, and their bodies were located two and half weeks later. This abduction and murder spawned a wave of militancy and lead to calls for revenge on social networks. This wave reached a peak with the murder of a sixteen-year old Palestinian from East Jerusalem - Mohammed Abu Khdeir.
An escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict immediately followed these events - two months of intense fighting in the Gaza Strip and rocket attacks on Israel – all of which has taken a heavy physical and emotional toll. Civilians on both sides of the conflict were subjected to violations of their rights to life and physical integrity as well as their rights under international humanitarian law. Over 2,000 lives were lost in Gaza, and thousands more were injured. In Israel, seven civilians were killed by rocket attacks, and 67 soldiers were killed in combat.
Even following the end of the fighting, quiet was not restored. At the time of writing, daily incidents continue to occur in Jerusalem, and the city is far from calm. The new reality in East Jerusalem is characterized by almost daily violence, clashes between residents and police and critical interruptions to the daily routine of residents, even those who are not involved in the disturbances.
While the security situation around us is concerning, its implications for Israeli society are equally troubling. During the summer of 2014, and still today, we witnessed the fragility of Israeli society and its democracy. The tendency to suppress criticism and controversy in times of emergency caused severe harm to freedom of expression. The silencing of voices that deviated from the national consensus, and especially the labeling of critics as “unpatriotic” or showing disloyalty to the state, is extremely troubling. Many voices warned that this violation of freedom of expression constitutes a clear and present danger to Israel’s democracy. The Jewish majority could not accept the identification of Israel’s Arab minority (and its historical, national, social and familial love) with the Palestinian residents of Gaza. As a result, we witnessed a frightening escalation in racism, incitement to violence and silencing against the Arab minority - a trend that spread throughout a large proportion of the Jewish public and was reflected in both public and virtual spaces. This racist public environment was at times further bolstered by senior government officials, whether by act, omission or silence.
These phenomena did not form in a vacuum. They are the result of ongoing processes in Israeli society that have taken place over several years (some of which we illustrated in previous versions of our annual “Situation Report”). These processes include the growing trend towards nationalism, extremism and fear of the other; the conditioning of rights on obligations - primarily the duty of loyalty to the state; the weakening of democratic values and the values of human rights; and the notion that a man is not an individual entity entitled to equal right, but should be judged according to his ethnicity, gender or class. These processes are endangering the future of Israeli society.
Beyond the security incidents and their implications, a series of harmful trends continued to manifest themselves in 2014: the cruel detention policy for refugees and asylum-seeker; discriminatory planning policies and home demolitions in the Negev; discrimination, neglect and police misconduct in East Jerusalem neighborhoods; the forced eviction of Palestinian residents of Area C; violations of freedom of expression for Palestinians in the West Bank; increasing privatization in the field of education; and more.
Nevertheless, it has seemed possible at times to see the first indications of positive change, particularly in the area of social rights. Though the budgetary priorities of the State of Israel have not changed, certain social and economic policies hinted at the beginning of a new way of thinking, including the establishment of the German and Alalouf Committees, the references to affordable housing in new legislation and legislative instructions to prohibit disconnecting water from vulnerable populations. These positive changes were not created from thin air, but are the results of years of hard work by organizations, groups and individuals. Thanks to the long-term struggle of dedicated activists, this year witnessed some fine achievements for both transgender rights and for the rights of workers to unionize.
In order to promote change, it needs to first be understood that change does not happen overnight. In all walks of life, change occurs through foundational work - from the political level, through to the government bureaucracy, to the courts, the media, opinion makers, and in the education system – all in order to strengthen ideas and encourage policies which promote equality, human rights and democracy. Despite the erosion of these values over time, Israel possesses strong foundations that are committed to democratic values and human rights. These foundations must be strengthened, and despite the difficulties, we can draw encouragement and inspiration from the struggles of groups and communities that insist on their rights and ultimately achieve great successes. We are committed to continuing our long-term struggle based on the values that guide us. We will not give up on democracy, human rights and Israeli society.
Sharon Abraham-Weiss Executive Director
Association for Civil Rights in Israel
iolations of Freedom of Expression during Operation Protective Edge
In times of crisis, war and emergency, there is an increased tendency to silence disagreements and criticism. Emotions run high, and intolerance towards expressions that contradict the majority opinion increase – particularly towards expressions that are perceived as “unpatriotic” or as expressing disloyalty to the state. During the summer of 2014, from the beginning of the military escalation in early July, this tendency manifested itself in particularly violent and threatening ways. During this period, many commentators contended that the infringement of freedom of expression rose to the level of a threat to Israeli democracy.1
This phenomenon that we encountered over the past year raises significant questions concerning the limits of freedom of expression, particularly in the age of the internet and social media, and with regard to the relationship between the majority and the minority. These questions pertain, among other things, to the fine line between freedom of expression and incitement; to the blurring of the boundaries between the private and public spheres and between private life and office life; to “citizen enforcement” on social networks; and more. These issues deserve a comprehensive analysis, which exceeds the framework of this report. However, we shall restrict ourselves herein to a brief review of some of the interrelated manifestations of violations of freedom of expression that occurred during the summer's conflict.
A public climate of intolerance, persecution and incitement: Since the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers Gilad Shaar, Eyal Yifrah and Naftali Fraenkel and the teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir from the Shuafat neighborhood of East Jerusalem, social networks became a platform for aggressive confrontations between the right-wing and left-wing and between Jews and Arabs. This confrontation escalated even more so after the commencement of the fighting in Gaza. Expressions that were deemed harsh or contentious soon led to silencing attempts. Several online groups took it upon themselves to monitor expressions on social networks and report “leftist” remarks; some of these groups were removed from Facebook following user complaints, but others remained active or were reopened.2 Artists and journalists who spoke against the actions of the military and the state during the fighting were subjected to much anger, and even those who did not publicly express an opinion but are perceived as leftists were subjected to abuse. Gila Almagor, Gideon Levy, Orna Banai, Amnon Abramovich, Rona Kenan and others were slandered and cursed on social networks and on the street, and some of them even received murder threats.3
This public climate of intolerance was bolstered by comments by public officials that participating in protest events related to the fighting in Gaza was illegitimate or even dangerous.4 For example, Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovich, who is charged with ensuring the right of Israeli citizens to demonstrate and protest, was quoted by the media as acting to put a stop to demonstrations against the fighting.5 The mayors of Haifa and Lod – two mixed cities with significant Arab populations – also tried to prevent demonstrations in their cities against the fighting.6 In addition, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan sought to end broadcasts of the Al Jazeera network in Israel.7
Violence Against Demonstrators: In light of the incitement and intolerance within the public discourse, it is perhaps unsurprising that anti-war demonstrations were marked by violent assaults on protesters by organized groups of nationalists thugs. During several demonstrations that took place in Tel Aviv and Haifa, right-wing activists cursed and threatened left-wing activists, ripped their signs, threw eggs, stones and bottles at them and even assaulted and beat them.8 In this context, it is worth reiterating that a key component of the police's obligation to protect freedom of expression is a duty to protect the safety of demonstrators. Police forces did position themselves between left-wing and right-wing demonstrations, but they failed to protect demonstrators after the demonstrations disbanded.
Arrests of demonstrators and the filing of indictments: There was a clear double standard in the attitude of the police towards the anti-war demonstrations that took place throughout Israel during that turbulent period. On one hand, it appeared that the police had implemented an intentional policy of reducing violent friction with demonstrators; on the other hand, the police conducted mass arrests – in about one month, approximately 1,500 demonstrators were arrested, some of them minors. Almost all those arrested were Arabs, detained after demonstrations in Arab communities. Indictments were filed against some 350 of them for disturbing public order, unauthorized assembly, disorderly conduct in a public place and violence against person and property.9 According to the NGO Adalah, which represented some of the arrested demonstrators, many demonstrations were dispersed without cause and in contravention of the law, and the police conducted pre-emptive and illegal arrests, even of minors.10
In this context, it is worth noting that in recent years, we have borne witness to a series of indictments against demonstrators that have been founded on flimsy and sometimes even preposterous grounds. This phenomenon is reflected in the multitude of acquittals, the expungement of indictments under the court’s recommendation and the mounting criticism voiced by the courts with regard to law enforcement authorities. Over the past two and a half years, 54 demonstrators have been acquitted and 40 indictments annulled – and this is only in the cases that ACRI managed to identify.11 In many cases, police forces have made hasty and baseless decisions to declare demonstration as “illegal assemblies”, resulting in unnecessary escalation and additional “offenses”. In light of the large number of unnecessary indictments, a legislative memorandum was amended by the Ministry of Justice in August that sought to transfer the authority to file an indictment in demonstration-related offenses from the Police Prosecution to the State Prosecution.12
“Policing” of Online Discourse: A pre-existing and concerning phenomenon that escalated during the summer in the summer was the summoning of citizens for questioning following expressions on social networks.13 For example, in February 2014, a photographer living in East Jerusalem was summoned for questioning after he published a status on Facebook calling the Jerusalem mayor “the mayor of the occupation.”14 In April, an Arab resident of Lod, was interrogated and released to house arrest after he published a Facebook status speaking out against the drafting of Arab Christians to the Israeli military.15 In early July, a resident of Be'er Sheva and a resident of Rishon LeZion, who are both right-wing activists, were questioned for distributing articles against Arabs on the internet,16 and an Arab student was questioned and remanded to house arrest after he published a Facebook invitation to a protest assembly in the village of Lakiya in the Negev.17 During Operation Protective Edge, a Jewish poet from Be'er Sheva was arrested after he published harsh and vitriolic statuses calling upon IDF soldiers fighting in Gaza to turn their weapons against government ministers and the wealthy;18 an Arab resident of Jaffa was questioned on suspicion of inciting racism on Facebook;19 a Palestinian was arrested after publishing statements against Israel and Jews on Facebook;20 and an indictment was filed against a Palestinian resident of the West Bank for publishing a status defaming the commander of the IDF's Golani Brigade.21 Although there were Jewish citizens who were summoned for questioning as a result of their online activity, the majority of those summoned were Arabs.
Indeed, there are cases where expressions on Facebook rise to the level of unlawful incitement, particularly in the case of pages with a declared racist purpose, which can serve as a platform for hate speech and as a tool for organizing violent action.22 There is nothing wrong with investigating cases that raise suspicions of criminal offenses. However, in most of the aforementioned cases – which rise only to the level of criticism and protest – there was no criminal aspect to the expressions themselves, and police had no grounds to summon, detain or arrest anyone. The mere act of summoning a citizen for interrogation, even if it does not lead to an indictment, can create a severe chilling effect on freedom of expression, particularly when it is used much more frequently against Arabs and against those who express views that deviate from the stance of the majority. It must also be noted that discourse on social networks is informal and can be strongly influenced by emotions in the heat of the moment, particularly during tense periods.
As explained by Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court Judge Itai Hermelin:
“This is a period of security and social tension, which inflames passions and compels people to express themselves, at times belligerently and in a manner that offends the feelings of others. Still, in a democratic country that sanctifies freedom of expression, there is no place to arrest people for expressions alone, so long as there is no incitement to commit an offense or an explicit call to harm another person.”23
Private citizens also took part in the “policing” of online discourse during the conflict, particularly employers, who “took responsibility” for their employees’ expressions and levied punitive sanctions against them. Because this phenomenon involved Arab employees almost exclusively, we will expand upon it in the chapter on the rights of the Arab minority. Instead, we shall note here a similarly concerning phenomenon: the practice of large and prominent companies adopting regulations that prohibit their employees from expressing political opinions on social networks, and threatening their employees with disciplinary action should they violate these regulations.24
It is worth reminding that freedom of expression is vital to the existence of a democratic society. The true test of freedom of expression is not the acceptance of statements that are widely agreed upon, but rather in accepting those that are harsh, contentious and difficult to bear. A society’s commitment to freedom of expression is tested particularly in times of war and social and national rifts.
Freedom of Expression in Academia
The trend of stifling criticism and voices that are not in the majority during Operation Protective Edge also affected institutions of higher education. Instead of encouraging a critical discourse and calling for tolerance, some university heads chose to take an active part in the policing of discourse on campus and punished students for online expressions that they or other students deemed inappropriate. For example, the Hadassah College temporarily suspended an Arab student who expressed joy over the injuries of Israeli soldiers on her Facebook page. The student was also removed from the honor student program, a scholarship granted to her was retroactively denied and a complaint against her was filed to the police.25 It was further published that two Arab students from Ariel University and the Technion would face disciplinary hearings stemming from statuses that they posted on Facebook after the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.26 Bar-Ilan University rebuked a lecturer who expressed concern for the victims on both sides of the conflict in an email sent to students,27 and permitted students to transfer out of the course of a “leftist” lecturer who wrote against the operation on his personal Facebook profile.28 The Tel-Hai College threatened to fire a teaching assistant who published strongly-worded statuses against the fighting in Gaza on Facebook; after conducting a hearing, it was decided not to fire him and settle for a reprimand.29
Even more concerning is the fact that several higher education institutions dissuaded and even threatened students from expressing themselves online. For example, the Tel-Hai College, Ben-Gurion University and Tel Aviv University announced that, if necessary, measures would be taken against students who expressed themselves in a manner that is “extreme,” “offensive” or “inappropriate.”30 Instead of instructing the universities to refrain from violating the freedom of expression of students and professors, the Council for Higher Education called upon students to maintain “moderation and restraint”.31 Many faculty members opposed restrictions on freedom of expression and the stifling of voices that deviate from the majority.32
Institutions of higher education do not bear any legal or public responsibility for the expressions of their faculty, staff, or students. It is not their business to police private expressions and discourse that take place off-campus, particularly when the remarks have nothing to do with the academic institution and campus life, and when they are not intended to damage the institution and its academic activity.
Even during periods of relative calm, certain universities impose severe restrictions on the freedom of expression of students with regard to controversial issues. For years, the University of Haifa has disproportionately employed various decrees and regulations that restrict the free expression of minority groups on campus. The oppressive array of restrictions does not apply to commercial activity or the activity of the student union, which is almost entirely controlled by one student faction. The university suspended the activity of the Balad student faction after it held a closed meeting with the secretary of the Balad party without authorization on Holocaust Memorial Day. This year, the Dean of Students also thwarted, for the third time, an attempt by Arab students to commemorate the Nakba Day on campus. In protest of the refusal to hold a conference on this issue, the student factions Hadash and Abnaa el-Balad conducted a protest vigil. In response, the university suspended their operations33 and removed the leaders of these factions from campus. Following Adalah’s appeal to the courts, the university agreed to allow the students to return to their studies on the condition that they promise not to organize or participate in unauthorized political activities until the date of their disciplinary hearing.34 The university eventually reduced the length of suspension for the activity of the Hadash and Abnaa el-Balad factions.35 In March 2014, ACRI filed an appeal to the Supreme Court concerning the authority that Haifa University has granted itself to completely suspend public activity on campus for an undefined period of time. Prior to ACRI's still pending appeal, the university had employed this authority every year, most recently during Operation Pillar of Defense in late 2012.36
During the year, the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee discussed restrictions on freedom of speech in universities. Both right-wing and left-wing students voiced complaints against the Hebrew University during the committee discussion.37 The committee announced that it would continue to review the matter, calling attention to the fact that the university heads did not attend the discussion, and therefore were not able to comment on these complaints. Following appeals by many students as well as harsh criticism over the conduct of the academic institutions, the Council for Higher Education conducted a discussion in June 2014 concerning public activity on campuses. The CHE published its position, which stated that “a recognized institution of higher education shall not prevent or restrict the right of a student to conduct a public activity, including organizing and demonstrating on any issue,” except in specified situations.38 However, in light of the conduct of some of the institutions over the summer, it appears that they have still not incorporated into practice the idea that freedom of expression is not a privilege but a basic constitutional right, and that institutions of higher education have an essential role in protecting this right.