Likud activist charged with threatening Netanyahu prosecutor let off the hook

Court finds remarks by Rami Ben-Yehuda in social media video were political statements; determines freedom of speech takes priority over attorney Liat Ben-Ari’s peace of mind

Likud activist Rami Ben-Yehuda arrives for a court hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on December 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Likud activist Rami Ben-Yehuda arrives for a court hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on December 18, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday canceled an indictment filed against a Likud party activist who had been charged with making threats against the lead prosecutor in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial and her son.

Judge David Shaul Gabai Richter found that remarks made by Rami Ben-Yehuda did not amount to a threat and that freedom of speech takes priority over peace of mind for prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari.

Charges were brought in February after Ben-Ari filed a complaint with the Israel Police against Ben-Yehuda over a Facebook live video he made during which he appeared to threaten the prosecutor and her son. She also requested a restraining order against Ben-Yehuda.

In the video, Ben-Yehuda said he was looking for Ben-Ari’s son and asking where he was.

However, Gabai Richter ruled that Ben-Yehuda’s remarks were political. He also found that only a small portion of the 41-minute-long video submitted as evidence contained the remarks that prosecutors said were a threat.

“The principle of freedom of expression must be prioritized over other protected principles, such as the peace of mind of the person (one of the values protected in the crime of threats),” the judge said. “The act or statement must be distinctly threatening — one that would cross the criminal threshold. But this is not the case before us.”

Lead prosecutor in Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial, Liat Ben-Ari, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, on December 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Ben-Yehuda’s defense lawyer, attorney Eden Politkin of the public defender’s office, welcomed the decision and said in a statement, “We expect the prosecution to exercise discretion in filing indictments of this type in order to prevent infringement of freedom of expression.”

In the video, Ben-Yehuda said, referring to Ben-Ari’s son, Tomer Shwekey, “Where is your son? Tell us where your son disappeared. Shwekey, where have you gone?” He also accused Ben-Ari of covering up her son’s alleged involvement in attacking a police officer during a protest, a false claim he has previously made.

Ben-Ari has reportedly considered quitting the position due to the wave of threats and vitriol directed at her by Netanyahu supporters since the trial began in 2020. Security around her was increased that summer after police reportedly received intelligence that the threats had become more serious.

The prime minister’s defenders have harshly criticized Ben-Ari and other members of the justice system and law enforcement community whom they accuse, without evidence, of attempting to unseat Netanyahu for political motives.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases. He faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in Case 4000. He denies wrongdoing and says the charges were fabricated in a political coup led by the police and state prosecution.

Ben-Yehuda is known for his attackdog tactics against political rivals and opponents of the party. He was suspended from the Likud in September 2022 after physically assaulting anti-Netanyahu protesters, and placed under a restraining order in 2021 for verbally abusing the wife of Likud defector MK Ze’ev Elkin.

Despite his antics, which include calling opponents of the judicial overhaul both “Hitler’s contemptible handmaids” and wishing a lawmaker would be sent “to the gas chambers,” Ben-Yehuda has been feted by senior Likud members and photographed alongside them, and in August received birthday greetings from far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who leads the Otzma Yehudit party.

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