Two rabbis were acquitted Sunday from charges of inciting IDF soldiers to disobey orders after a judge ruled that “the test of democracy is the application of freedom of expression also when the expression irkes or even offends.”
Rabbi Shalom Dov Wolpo, 68, from Beitar Illit, was accused of encouraging soldiers to disobey orders to evacuate settlements in two different instances in 2009 and 2011.
Wolpo and Rabbi Shabtai Weintraub were indicted in 2009 for handing out “Heroes of Israel” awards to IDF soldiers who were waving placards bearing the words “Shimshon Battalion won’t evacuate Homesh” during an IDF swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall.
The two also handed out envelopes containing cash for days of imprisonment to soldiers who refused to take part in the evacuation of the Homesh in the West Bank. For each day of prison served over the incident, Wolpo and Weintraub offered NIS 1,000.
During the October induction ceremony, a group of cadets raised a sign that read “Shimshon won’t evacuate Homesh.”
“Calling for IDF soldiers to refuse commanders’ orders is outrageous. However, freedom of speech has a special constitutional status and constitutes an essential condition of democracy and the protection of other fundamental rights,” wrote Joya Skappa-Shapiro in her verdict in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
“Freedom of speech does not only apply to expressions that garner a broad consensus, and the test of democracy is the application of freedom of expression also when the expression irkes or even offends, as in this case,” Skappa-Shapiro added.
Rabbi Wolpo, a prominent rabbi in the Chabad movement, was indicted for another incident in 2011 after he praised an IDF soldier for disobeying orders by not showing up to his mission that involved the evacuation of the Migron settlement, which was relocated the following year. The soldier was sentenced in a military court to 20 days in prison.
“There is some light,” Wolpo said at the time about the soldier’s actions, denouncing “the crime of demolishing homes, evacuating homes and expelling Jews from the Land of Israel. Therefore, in an offense like this, the soldiers must refuse an order, a manifestly illegal order, and God forbid not to evacuate Jews.”
Wolpo, who gave the soldier’s parents NIS 20,000, said: “A commander who sentences a soldier to prison for disobeying an order should know he is giving him a reward. I want soldiers who refused orders to go to their commanders and tell them, do us a favor and give us a few days in prison, the situation at home is not good. We have already done this a few times … The commander will know he is giving a reward to the soldier.”
Wolpo’s and Weintraub’s attorney, Yitzhak Bam, described the judge’s decision as “extremely significant for freedom of speech,” adding that “freedom of speech for the Right is not a given. The fact is that an indictment was filed and the courts considered the matter for three years. This freedom of speech is a right that we need to fight for every day and we will fight.”