A key figure from a left-wing Israeli group was arrested at Ben-Gurion airport on Monday as he tried to leave the country, days after being filmed in a television investigation that has rocked the halls of power.
Ezra Nawi, a Jewish far-left activist from the Ta’ayush group, is reportedly suspected of conspiracy to commit a crime.
Nawi, a prominent campaigner for Palestinian rights, featured in a television investigation last week in which he was recorded saying that he helps Palestinian authorities find and kill Palestinians who sell land to Jews.
Channel 2 reported Monday that during the afternoon police who were watching the suspect followed him to the airport. Although at first officers assumed he was going to meet incoming travelers, it soon became clear he was trying to leave the country as he tried to check in for a flight.
Police arrested Nawi and took him away for questioning.
Police confirmed they arrested a leftist activist but declined to give his name, though it was carried in several media reports and revealed by two lawmakers not bound by secrecy rules.
A recording of Nawi was aired on Thursday by the investigative television program Uvda, on Israel’s Channel 2.
In it, Nawi is heard speaking about four Palestinian real estate sellers, whom Nawi said mistook him for a Jew interested in buying their property.
“Straight away I give their pictures and phone numbers to the Preventive Security Force,” Nawi is heard saying in reference to the Palestinian Authority’s counterintelligence arm. “The Palestinian Authority catches them and kills them. But before it kills them, they get beat up a lot.”
The broadcast sparked a political storm, with right-wing politicians and activists pointing to it as proof that left-wing groups are not necessarily interested in human rights.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Facebook Friday that the report “unmasked radicals among us, whose hatred for settlements has pushed them over the edge to the point of delivering innocents for torture and execution. Those who encourage murder cannot continue to hide behind the hypocritical pretense of caring for human rights.”
In the Palestinian Authority, the penal code calls for capital punishment for anyone convicted of selling land to Jews. This law, which Palestinian officials defended as designed to prevent takeovers by settlers, has not been implemented in Palestinian courts, where sellers of land to Jews are usually sentenced to several years in prison.
A number of murders in recent years have been rumored to be related to the sale of land to Israelis, though the murders have remained unsolved.
Nawi was also documented obtaining information from a Palestinian who believed Nawi was a Jew interested in purchasing land. Nawi is seen saying he intends to give that information to Palestinian security officials as well. According to Uvda, an activist with the human rights group B’Tselem helped Nawi set up the would-be seller in a sting operation in which the seller would be arrested.
The recordings and footage were collected by right-wing activists who secretly recorded Nawi.
JTA contributed to this report.