search

Prosecutors weigh indicting former far-right MK for incitement against Arabs

Officials note the broad social media reach of Otzma Yehudit’s Michael Ben Ari; ex-MK is eligible for a hearing before decision is made

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Michael Ben Ari attends a press conference held in response to the Supreme Court decision to disqualify his candidacy for the 2019 Knesset elections, due to his racist views, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLash90)
Michael Ben Ari attends a press conference held in response to the Supreme Court decision to disqualify his candidacy for the 2019 Knesset elections, due to his racist views, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLash90)

The state prosecution said Wednesday it had notified former MK Michael Ben Ari that it is considering indicting him over “systematic and repeated” incitement of ethnic hatred against Arabs, pending a potential hearing on the matter.

According to a statement issued by the prosecution, Ben Ari is suspected of promoting racism toward Arabs for a period of three and a half years starting in late 2017.

The prosecution said it had identified more than 20 separate incidents involving Ben Ari engaging in incitement against Arabs. It noted his broad reach and the potential risk of his comments encouraging others to adopt racist attitudes.

Prosecutors noted incitement by the far-right figure in a speech he gave at a public event, in an interview to a major news publication and on social media.

“The inciting statements, which Ben Ari encouraged his followers to continue sharing… received extensive exposure, and in practice set the stage for others to express public support of his content,” the statement read.

Ben Ari’s Twitter account has a following of more than 32,000 people.

Prosecutors said Ben Ari had the right to a hearing, if he wants one, before they make a decision in his case.

In response, Ben Ari said in a statement: “We’ll meet in court. We’ll crush you… I’ve been waiting three and a half years for this trial.”

Then-Otzma Yehudit party member Michael Ben Ari speaks during an elections campaign event of Otzma Yehudit party in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Ben Ari was a founding member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, alongside far-right figures such as Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben Gvir and Bentzi Gopstein.

Ben Ari previously led the party but was disqualified from running by the High Court of Justice ahead of the April 2019 elections due to what judges said was his repeated incitement against Arabs.

Last year, Facebook said it permanently banned Ben Ari, as well as party member and far-right activist Baruch Marzel, from Facebook and Instagram, citing “their ongoing support for Kach and Kahane Chai — groups deemed to be terror organizations by US and Israeli law.”

The social media platform said that “in order to prevent actual harm, we do not allow organizations and people who declare violent goals or who deal in violence to be active on Facebook.”

Facebook also said it would remove any content supportive of the two and/or their actions.

Then-Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari (R), and Baruch Marzel (L) speak during a press conference held in response to the High Court’s decision to disqualify Ben Ari’s candidacy for the upcoming Knesset elections, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

According to recent polls, the Religious Zionism faction, which includes Otzma Yehudit, will receive between 10-11 seats in the upcoming November election.

Ben Ari served in Israel’s 18th Knesset (2009-2013) as a member of the National Union alliance of far-right and nationalistic political parties. At the time, he focused his political efforts on bringing attention to the growing numbers of Sudanese refugees in Israel, who he blamed for rising crime rates.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed