Israel Democracy imploding as free speech crackdown lands human rights lawyers in prison
More than a dozen people were arrested in Israel since 26th February. Journalists, bloggers, lawyers and activists.
It's been described as a major takedown of a cyber terror gang, and the result of over a year of undercover work by Israel Police and authorities.
News is spilling across Israel, ranging from Ynet, news1, mynetholon, posta, and various tv channels such as Channel 2 and 10. Talk is being leaked that they are the biggest criminal gang ever caught - accused of blackmail, sexual harrassment, naming and shaming public officials, and even as far as saying they have an international organisation reaching from Panama to Australia. The most criminal gang akin to an arab terrorist group.
So what is the story? Who was arrested and why?
The arrests resulted in some people being held in prison, and others on house arrest.
Inside the names are Lory Shem Tov - journalist who ran a Facebook page called motherscry, and a website. She made an appeal for help to the international community. Her own children were taken from her. She was married to someone with mafia connections. The fight for her children bankrupted her, and she continued to fight for other parents. She has been penalised over 4 million shekels, and has the usual penalties of a no exit order and constant harrassment.
Eli Daniel - a father of two children, who ran a Facebook page called Yeled Va Shem. His children were abducted from Israel to the UK, then onwards to South Africa. He has been fighting through the Israeli Courts, and connecting to England and the Hague. His life was devastated and destroyed searching for his children. He tried through the Knesset for reform
Moti Leybel - a well known and very outspoken activist against the Welfare. He tends to work alone, and on regular occasions made one man protests against individual social workers. He was arrested twice in 2015 and imprisoned for 24 hours.
Ariel Formanovski is no stranger to this page. His journey of fighting for his son, and providing a test case for judicial violations has been ongoing. He was arrested in a shocking way - but later released with the help of one of the top lawyers in Israel - Avi Amiram.
Lawyer X - whose name is on a gag order, which will be respected here. He operates similarly to the other lawyer, and has even advised lawyers themselves.
Others were held on house arrest and forbidden to use the internet for at least 30 days. All sites and pages were removed.
What are the accusations?
It is not clear. On one TV show, a whole segment was dedicated to a lawyer named Shahar Shwarz, and an ongoing dispute between him, Leybel, Shemtov, and Yaniv Moyal. Segments of tape recordings were aired, implicating the activist in what seemed to be a blackmail conversation. The background is the lawyer approached the activists many years ago asking if he could help clients they found. From there, things went sour and lawsuits were placed by all parties against the others.
In another news item, the main story is websites - in particular a site called horimisrael.com. It is alleged all the parties arrested were engaged with the site which was a tabloid site, naming and shaming judges, lawyers and social workers. There was a sexual content to it. The irony of the site was that public officials are quick to accuse men of sexual abuse of children, which destroys their lives, so the tables were turned. It is illegal in Israel to insult a public official, but it is viable for authorities to name, shame and destroy the lives of fathers and children. It was seemingly an extreme fight back against the system.
A subtext to this whole affair is the civil society - Ccf Israel. The coalition for families and children. The websites of those in prison were attached to the coalition. Reports to the UNHRC back in 2011 were the first ever sent outside Israel to an international organisation asking for help for the people inside Israel. It was a shock to the authorities. A UN rapporteur visited Israel and made recommendations. Following this, a number of men who spoke to the rapporteur were arrested. In fact one is in prison now, and another was arrested last week, who is not in this group. Despite years of campaigning, fathers are still left without children, and the Knesset still haven't committed to change.
It is now over 2.5 weeks since those arrested have been held. Clients of the lawyer are being prevented representation, and judicial process has been perverted for those who are merely people in trouble. The suicide rate in fathers is high, and the activists were relentless in pursuing justice.
The talk on the network, is that the detainees are either white as white or guilty as sin. The fight for justice and reform is on hold. There is disarray. Culturally - Israelis are struggling to unite. They themselves will say there are too many ego battles; too many different approaches and little agreement.
The underlying cause for what may be extreme activism has not disappeared. The dismantling of the family is a huge issue. Children being removed from homes and institutionalised for profit, is a huge issue.
In Israel, as in many other countries, there is a legal term 'sub judice'. This means it is inappropriate to discuss a case as it may corrupt proceedings. Publicly discussing a case can interfere with due process.
In the case of clients of the lawyers, they are left high and dry. Cases and hearings are daily. A no show means a loss and possibly many more years of appeals for clients. They are adrift without representation. The obstruction of justice for those people is clearly apparent.
It takes a lot for normal people to reach desperate measures. Lawsuits are prepared for the USA by many israeli fathers, who merely want to see their children.
The behaviour of the people in prison is a far cry from the behaviour of those they complain about. Thanks to activism, mainstream news now report with a degree of shame that they missed the truth.
The current naming and shaming of activists is a mirror of the current situation between citizens and the authorities. It cannot be acceptable in a democracy that only one of the equation has the 'right'.
Tomorrow 16th - in Tel Aviv, the four detainees will attend a hearing to decide the next steps. Most people hope they can return home. But after the declarations by the press, it may seem a long road for police to retract such extreme claims. The current claim of terrorism seems a step too far.