An ultranationalist coalition lawmaker on Wednesday defended using the term “holy righteous man” to describe a Jewish extremist convicted of killing three members of a Palestinian family in a 2015 arson attack, calling his imprisonment a “crime” after addressing a recent event to raise funds for his release.
Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech doubled down on the comments after video was published on Tuesday of her defense of Amiram Ben Uliel, who was found guilty in 2020 of three counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder, arson and conspiring to commit a racially motivated crime, as part of a “terrorist act.”
He is serving three life sentences plus 20 years for the deadly firebombing in the West Bank village of Duma, in which Riham and Saad Dawabsha were killed along with their 18-month-old son, Ali Saad. Only the couple’s 5-year-old son, Ahmed, survived the terror attack, with extensive burns.
“I don’t support a murderer. I know he is innocent,” Son Har-Melech said in the clip, before recounting a visit she made to Ben Uliel and hailing him as “this righteous man, this holy righteous man [tzaddik], really.”
She said that when meeting Ben Uliel, “I brought another man with me so he’d be in the same room with him, and I would just stand behind him and hide,” adding that no female guards are present whenever the murder convict leaves his cell.
“This is so beautiful to me, this sanctity, this upholding [of religious strictures]. It really just tells you who the man is and maybe really says a little about this holy man, who I think is suffering there for all the people of Israel,” she said. Behind her were signs declaring, “Amiram deserves justice!” and “Amiram is innocent!”
The fundraiser Har-Melech spoke at was organized by a group pushing for Ben Uliel’s release, which reportedly raked in NIS 418,000 at the event. Supporters of Ben Uliel have largely focused on the fact that his confession was obtained using what the Shin Bet calls “special measures” — decried as torture by him and by rights groups.
Har-Melech was later denounced over her remarks in the clip by a number of opposition lawmakers, along with Minister Moshe Arbel of the coalition’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party, who said he was “deeply sorrowed” by her comments and cited the Ten Commandments’ edict against murder.
Despite the condemnations, Har-Melech continued to praise Ben Uliel during an interview Wednesday, saying a Jewish man who avoids eye contact with a woman is “a holy righteous man.”
“I did not speak in regards to the act attributed to him. I will not apologize for what I said. It’s a crime that he is sitting [in prison] like this,” she told the Kol Berama radio station.
“I do not back the act of murder,” she continued. “I back Amiram because I believe he’s innocent. I wouldn’t back a murderer.”
“Every Jew in the State of Israel needs to be losing sleep knowing that a Jew is sitting in jail only because of a case based on torture,” claimed Har-Melech, whose former spokesman is a suspect in the killing of a Palestinian during a clash between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the northern West Bank last month.
Last week, Har-Melech was one of 14 coalition lawmakers — more than half of them from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party — who appealed to Shin Bet security chief Ronen Bar for Ben Uliel’s incarceration conditions to be eased, claiming he was being held “under the most difficult incarceration conditions in the State of Israel.”
The coalition MKs urged that Ben Uliel be moved out of solitary confinement to a prison wing for religious convicts, considered to have better conditions, and that the move remain in effect “for at least” the ongoing Jewish High Holidays.
Prison officials approved Ben Uliel’s transfer to the “Torah wing” for Rosh Hashanah over the weekend, before moving him back to solitary confinement.
Channel 12 news reported that Shin Bet security agency head Ronen Bar had said that Ben Uliel could not be moved to another ward permanently “in light of his expected influence on others.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.