Amidst the horrible news from Israel–Bibi giving Ben Gvir his own private Brownshirt militia, a massive increase in new settlements, a law approving appointment of a twice-convicted felon to serve as a minister–there are glimmers of hope and resistance. To be clear, these are not acts which will overthrow fascism. They will not stave off the national disaster approaching.
But they are the courageous acts of one man, a single journalist who has spoken his mind, voiced deeply controversial ideas (more on that later), ones that are almost universally hated. They are words of truth that no one wants to hear. But you want to hear them. That’s why you’re here (at least I hope so).
He is Yisrael Frei. An ultra-Orthodox Jew who speaks fearlessly of the rot emanating from the current Israeli regime. For his trouble, the police arrested him, charging him with incitement to terrorism and sedition.
His crime? Israeli police apprehended a Palestinian who entered Israel in order to attack Israeli soldiers. When he found none, he told the interrogators who questioned him after his arrest, he determined he would not kill Israeli civilians. Frei tweeted (see below) that the man was a “hero” because, in the face of the oppression and murder meted out against his people daily, he refused to murder indiscriminately. Frei closed his tweet by affirming the Palestinian right to armed resistance.
Then all hell broke loose. Judeo-fascist groups filed criminal complaints against him. The police summoned him for questioning, “invitations’ he refused. Then the state prosecutor filed a formal complaint against him, after which he was arrested (more below).
Until last month, he worked for DemocracTV (“the voice of the moderate majority”) founded by Israeli-Palestinian journalist, Lucy Aharish. Its website boasts:
The channel, hosted and led by Lucy Aharish, is a collaborative, courageous, and independent communications network that seeks to shine a light into the deepest corners of Israeli society and strengthen Israeli democracy.
But after his recent imbroglio they summoned him to a disciplinary hearing, after which they suspended him. They tweeted this statement:
— דמוקרטTV (@Democrat_TV) September 12, 2022
DemocraTV has announced the immediate suspension of journalist, Yisrael Frei, after he made an extremist, ill-considered statement on Twitter.
DemocraTV represents the values of the moderate middle and is supported by, among others, monthly donations of thousands of Israelis. Frei’s statement has no connection to our values. They reprensent his personal opinion alone. We completely disown it. Just as we would never endorse statements supporting transfer [ethnic cleansing] or hanging a picture of Baruch Goldstein, we refused to accept statements like Frei’s. This is our way. We will continue to advance moderate dialogue in order to vigorously preserve democracy.
Immediately following the suspension, the management had the chutzpah to blame him for exhibiting “violence” and “threatening behavior” in the studio following the decision. Imagine you were put before a kangaroo court and treated as shabbily as these faux democrats treated him.
Last month, he was summoned to a final hearing at which he was berated for his behavior, after which he was fired. In the statement that followed, the channel referenced none of its objections to Frei’s tweet, which had been the center of its statement (above) justifying his suspension. A TV channel espousing devotion to democracy, does not come off well for firing a journalist who expressed sympathy with Palestinians taking up arms against a state depriving them of freedom, justice and life itself. Ironically, it is Frei who calls for true democracy and equality for all Israelis and Palestinians between the river and the sea. Not the faux “moderate” democracy advocated by DemocraTV. Apparently, there is such a thing as too much democracy.
Nevertheless, Frei remains undeterred, defiant.
Yisrael Frei was born in Tzfat (Safed), to a family affiliated with the Ger Hasidic sect, and comes from a long line of rabbis. His great-grandfather was an MK from the Agudath Israel Party. He began his career as a journalist working for several ultra-Orthodox publications. He was fired after criticizing ultra-Orthodox rabbis who refused to condemn settlers who attacked IDF soldiers. Since then, he has leveled criticism against ultra-Orthodoxy as an ultra-Orthodox Jew. He considers himself a member of the “universal left.”
Frei justifies Palestinian armed resistance
Last September, a Palestinian traveled from Nablus to Tel Aviv with a crude gun he planned to use to kill Israeli soldiers. Because of his hesitation, he was eventually apprehended by Israeli police. In the tweet below, Frei writes:
Look at what a hero is: He traveled all the way from Nablus to Tel Aviv and despite all the Israelis around him who are part of the oppression, crushing and killing his people–he nevertheless waited for a legitimate target and restrained himself from attacking civilians. In a just world, he would receive a medal.
תראו מה זה גיבור.
הוא עשה את כל הדרך משכם עד תל אביב, ולמרות שכל הישראלים סביבו לוקחים איכשהו חלק בדיכוי, ריסוק והרג בני עמו – הוא בכל זאת חיפש מטרות לגיטימיות ונמנע מפגיעה בחפים מפשע.
בעולם מתוקן הוא היה מקבל מדליה. pic.twitter.com/5w8JTnC431
— ישראל פריי (@freyisrael1) September 11, 2022
Another tweet of his criticizes Labor Party MK, Merav Michaeli, who tweeted standard pablum praising the police for foiling yet another terror attack. To which Frei replies: “Hey, Meirav, attacking [Israeli] security forces is not terror.”
פיגוע נורא במוצאי שבת. סומכת על כוחות הביטחון שלנו שיגיעו במהרה למחבלים המתועבים האלה. כולנו יחד מאוחדים במלחמה נגד הטרור שמאיים עלינו כאן.
— Merav Michaeli מרב מיכאלי (@MeravMichaeli) October 8, 2022
In an interview given the morning after his arrest, he spoke to journalists. He told them that he understands that for now he is the story. But that they should not ignore the 800,000 Palestinian males who’ve been imprisoned in Israeli jails, 20% of all Palestinian men. It starts with oppression of Palestinians, he warned, and ends with the same injustices sanctioned against Israelis.
In speaking about the new government, he warned that paths to such oppression goes through him.
העיתונאי ישראל פריי @freyisrael1 בצאתו מהמעצר: “פרקטיקות שמופעלות כל הזמן כלפי פלסטינים, ועכשיו זה גם מגיע אלינו”.
את הדברים אמר בשידור חי ל @ishayhadas בעמוד הפייסבוק של קריים מיניסטר pic.twitter.com/WFqpwFId10
— Or-ly Barlev ~ אור-לי ברלב (@orlybarlev) December 27, 2022
In another tweet published before his arrest, he offered this impassioned call for an Israeli state based on “decency,” “justice,” and “love of one’s fellow [hu]man. It’s made even powerful through the use of traditional Jewish values:
רק מבקש לוודא שלא נשארו פה אחת ואחד שהולכים לקשקש מתישהו על “ממלכתיות”. תם הטקס. אזרח טוב הוא בוגד. אדם טוב הוא אנרכיסט. ישראלי טוב הוא מתנגד שלטון. אל מול פאשיזם, אפרטהייד וחוקי עוול – האדמו”רים היחידים שלנו הם ערכי השוויון, הצדק, החמלה ואהבת אדם באשר הוא. לאורם נלך וננצח.
— ישראל פריי (@freyisrael1) December 27, 2022
Just asking–is there is not a single person left [in Israel] talking about human decency? All of the fine ceremonies have ended. Now, a good citizen is a traitor. A decent human being is an anarchist. The good Israeli hates the government. In the face of fascism, apartheid and evil laws, our sole moral exemplars [“rebbes”] are values of equality [for Palestinians], justice, compassion, and love for every single person. [Guided] by their light we will triumph.
Israel fears journalists and journalism
In Israel, not only is it apparently a crime to justify armed resistance to state terrorism, but it is a terror offense itself. Frei has merely made a statement that resistance and liberation movements have made all the way back to the 19th century. Frei is not a terrorist. Even those who ordered his arrest don’t believe this. But he is someone who understands that Israel itself has driven Palestinians to violence. Given that, they have every right to use violence in return.
The security forces fear such ideas. They know that once a journalist begins to air them that they will become normalized. Justifying armed resistance (which they call “terror”) will, they fear, weaken Israel. Weaken its resolve. Weaken its control. And it’s true. It will do this. But not because Frei is so powerful or dangerous. But because the New Fascism is so violent, so cruel, so murderous, that dissidents like Frei will be like prophets to the rest of the world which will, someday soon one hopes, rally to his cause. And this is what will endanger the New Regime. The combined force of world opinion, sanctions, isolation, and accountability will strike hard blows to fascist Israel.
Frei assaulted, shackled during arrest
Returning to Frei’s story: yesterday, someone claiming to be a source offered him a story and enticed him to travel to Tel Aviv for a meeting. When he arrived, he was assaulted by police, pushed to the ground, shackled by his hands and feet, and arrested. After enduring hours of interrogation, he left the police station, refusing to sign any document which attempted to place conditions on him, and offered this short, but powerful statement:
This morning [yesterday] Israeli police sent me a honeypot [“female temptress”] who presented herself as a journalistic source and made an appointment to meet me. When I arrived at the parking lot in Tel Aviv, police jumped me and grabbing me by the hands and legs. They brought me here [points to the building where he was questioned] for interrogation lasting hours.
Look my friends, the New Regime is already here. It is fascist and wants us weak, frightened, Against a fascist regime there is only one way and I, for one, plan to follow it: to raise your head high. There is no middle ground, no moderate middle, nor even the possibility of dialogue. We must be a political movement for freedom for all between the river and the sea. Will will win!
— Tal Schneider טל שניידר تال شنايدر (@talschneider) December 27, 2022
Statement by Israeli Security Source
A source told Tikun Olam:
“We are no fools and we know very well that Frei is not a terror supporter. But we had to summon him (through police) for interrogation. After he refused several times, we had to order his arrest) in order to cover our ass (kastah). If we didn’t, we would be rightly accused of racism the next time we interrogate or arrest a Palestinian for similar tweets.”
There is one major difference between arresting a Palestinian for social media posts allegedly inciting violence, and arresting Yisrael Frei. He is an Israeli journalist. And it is exceedingly rare to manhandle such a person in broad daylight, arrest him and interrogate him for hours. Though the Mossad was willing to murder Uri Avneri and Ronen Bergman as part of its plan to assassinate Yasser Arafat in Beirut, I can recall no Israeli journalist ever brought to an interrogation in shackles.
That is a red line the security apparatus has hesitated to cross, until now. Clearly, the reason it has done it now is that Israel’s security forces fear what’s to come. They know that a “new Pharoah arose who knew not Joseph.” The new fascist Pharoah, one who hates them passionately for allegedly arresting their Judeo-terrorist thugs, will demand absolute fealty to their extremist vision. That will include a full-scale assault on the media, specifically journalists like Frei. Certainly, even less radical reporters will find themselves under assault.
Frei is a brave man. But he is not a movement. He does not command an army, let alone followers. Thus, I doubt he can be a catalyst for change. He cannot right the Titanic headed for the iceberg. But he can be a witness. When disaster strikes, as it will, we will be able to point to the Freis of Israel and say they warned you, and you chose not to listen. To paraphrase the Psalms: Mouths have you but you did not speak. Eyes have you but you did not see. Ears have you but you did not hear.