Anti-migrant activist briefly arrested over vandalism near chief justice’s home

Anti-migrant activist briefly arrested over vandalism near chief justice’s home

‘Esther Hayut, you buried Zionism,’ reads graffiti; Sheffi Paz later released on bail, has previously admitted to placing threatening stickers on mailbox of another top judge

South Tel Aviv resident and activist Sheffi Paz speaks during a visit of Ayelet Shaked in south Tel Aviv on April 2, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
South Tel Aviv resident and activist Sheffi Paz speaks during a visit of Ayelet Shaked in south Tel Aviv on April 2, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Three people, including a prominent anti-migrant activist, were briefly detained on Thursday night on suspicion of spray-painting slogans against the High Court of Justice outside the home of its chief justice, Esther Hayut.

The graffiti vandalism read: “Esther Hayut, you buried Zionism,” and “Thanks for burying the right of return in Tel Aviv,” as well as, “The High Court destroyed south Tel Aviv.”

Two of the suspects were released after police questioning, while the third, Sheffi Paz, was freed on bail after a court hearing Friday.

Paz has for years campaigned against the housing of African migrants in her south Tel Aviv neighborhood. She confirmed her arrest in a tweet on Thursday night.

Paz admitted last month that she plastered stickers outside the home of Supreme Court Judge Uzi Vogelman, an action that prompted him to file a police complaint.

Those stickers carried the slogan “Jewish blood is cheap — the High Court of Justice,” a play on a slogan used by right-wing extremist Jewish activists who campaign under the message that “Jewish blood is not cheap.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut at a second day of hearings on petitions against the coalition agreement between Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on May 3, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

The stickers, which were also marked with the “South Tel Aviv Liberation Front,” Paz’s organization, were apparently referring to High Court rulings that have prevented the government from removing migrants from the neighborhood where local residents say they are a source of violent crime, including rape.

“We have a long history with Uzi Vogelman,” Paz said in a statement. “It took me some time to find his address, otherwise I would have done it long ago.”

Justice Uzi Vogelman at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on June 4, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Paz’s actions against Vogelman had come the day after the judiciary said Justice Anat Baron had received two threatening messages. Paz did not take responsibility for the threats to Baron.

A spokesperson for the judiciary said Baron had received a threatening letter and linked the previous letter to “continuous unbridled incitement” against the courts. The earlier letter appeared to threaten harm to Baron’s son. The content of the second letter was not published. In a statement, the judiciary spokesperson said the body in charge of securing the courts had filed a police complaint.

Opposition politicians have linked the vandalism and threats to rhetoric against the judiciary by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

The vandalism outside Hayut’s home came days after the Knesset rejected a motion to create a commission of inquiry into the High Court justices’ alleged conflicts of interests, following news reports alleging misconduct by the top court, including by Hayut herself. The move spearheaded by the opposition’s right-wing Yamina party failed to muster a Knesset majority despite Likud support.

Prior to Paz’s admission last month on the Vogelmen incident, opposition leader MK Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid-Telem party blamed “incitement” by Netanyahu for the threats made against High Court justices.

As his trial began in May, Netanyahu accused the justice system of engaging in a conspiracy to oust him from office.

Supreme Court Justice Anat Baron. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in 2018 ordered a probe into possible incitement after a poster of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri was burned during an anti-migrant protest in Tel Aviv. Paz then stood by the burning of the picture and denied anyone had called for violence against Deri or other government officials.

“His people need to stop being crybabies,” she said at the time, according to the Srugim website.

In recent years, the estimated 35,000 African migrants in Israel have been detained, threatened with deportation, and faced hostility from lawmakers and residents. The High Court has pushed back against government plans to jail or deport the migrants, saying a solution in line with international norms must be found.

While many of the migrants say they are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, Israel views them as job-seekers who threaten the Jewish character of the state.

The Africans, mainly from war-torn Sudan and dictatorial Eritrea, began arriving in Israel in 2005 through its porous border with Egypt, after Egyptian forces violently quashed a refugee demonstration in Cairo and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the desert border, often after enduring dangerous journeys, before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.

Since then, Israel has wrestled with how to cope with those already in the country. Many took up menial jobs in hotels and restaurants, and thousands settled in south Tel Aviv, where Israeli residents began complaining of rising crime.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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