'I'm not okay in the head. I have an army? Come on'

Psychiatric patient charged with threatening Netanyahu while muttering to cats

Judge criticizes police for criminal indictment against man in mental institution, refuses to remand him; cops questioned 16 people over the alleged threat

Illustrative: A psychiatric hospital (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)
Illustrative: A psychiatric hospital (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

Police charged a psychiatric patient for allegedly threatening the life of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, based on comments he muttered to himself and to cats at the institution where he is hospitalized, a report said Tuesday.

At a remand hearing on the case, a Tel Aviv judge said he did not believe the threat was serious or credible since the patient has previously been deemed mentally unfit for trial. The judge criticized police for pushing the indictment, the Haaretz daily reported, and refused to remand the suspect into custody.

The patient has denied saying he would hurt the prime minister.

The case came as opposition politicians accuse the government of using the Israel Police as a political tool against Netanyahu’s critics, magnifying instances of alleged incitement against the premier.

According to the Haaretz report, a volunteer at the psychiatric institution said she had heard the patient, who is in his 40s, muttering that “if Bibi is elected he [the patient] has a plan, he has weapons and he has an army.” He was using Netanyahu’s nickname.

Court documents aren’t clear as to whether the volunteer initiated the complaint or if the police approached her first.

Cops have questioned 16 people in the case, the report said. One of them, the volunteer, was asked by an investigator whether the patient sounded determined when he uttered the threat.

“I don’t know, I don’t know in what state he was… but still, this is a psychiatric ward, people are on medications. It isn’t surprising that others didn’t react to the things he said,” she reportedly answered.

Another volunteer said: “I was in conversation with another patient and I heard him talking to himself or to thin air. He spoke about all sorts of things, says he heads an army and there’s going to be a revolution on March 23. He toured the garden, spoke with the cats.”

March 23 is the date of the upcoming Knesset elections.

An ultra-Orthodox man walks near an election campaign poster showing Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem on April 2, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The patient himself has denied the charges against him, saying he has mental problems and never intended to harm the prime minister, though he has attended a few anti-Netanyahu demonstrations.

“I am sick and trying to take care of myself,” he said, according to Haaretz. “I didn’t say I would hurt Netanyahu. Me not liking him is one thing, but I didn’t say such a thing. I told you, I’m not okay in the head. I have an army? Come on.”

Still, police pushed for him to be detained until the end of court proceedings in the case, a demand that has been rejected.

Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court judge Itai Hermelin said in a hearing last week that “the volunteers’ testimonies indicate that the defendant didn’t threaten to hurt the prime minister, but rather made general comments about ‘revolutionary’ plans. It is difficult to view the remarks as constituting an offense.

“The prosecution ought to have examined the evidence more thoroughly before charging a man with threatening to hurt the prime minister,” he said, adding that the patient has been through a psychiatric evaluation in another case allegedly involving an assault on a police officer. “It concluded with a ruling that he isn’t fit to stand trial.”

The patient’s lawyer Kobi Sudri described the case as Kafkaesque, calling the police “immoral and lacking a moral compass.”

“That is exactly how a police that abuses its power to serve political interests looks.”

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