Public Security Minister Avi Dichter has confirmed that the intelligence services have no information backing up a report by state-run Channel 1 news that alumni are plotting to avenge the murder of the eight students with approval from rabbis there. Officials at the Merkaz HaRav Yeshiva said Tuesday that they are considering a libel suit.
The state-run TV station broadcast a segment by journalist Ayala Hasson on Tuesday accusing Merkaz HaRav rabbis of approving a revenge attack planned by three former students to avenge the murder of eight students in an attack last Thursday. The vague report, which relied heavily on unnamed sources, was quickly picked up by the Associated Press and published in papers worldwide under the headlines: "Yeshiva graduates plan revenge attack against Arab figure."
According to the Channel 1 report, three men, ages 25-35, met with at least one rabbi from Merkaz HaRav and discussed possible revenge attacks against leading Muslim figures connected with the Temple Mount in response to the murder of eight students.
Yeshiva officials said the report was completely baseless, and pointed out that no arrests have been made based on the allegations. Yeshiva head Rabbi Yaakov Shapira has mentioned repeatedly in addresses to students not to seek revenge.
MK Zevulun Orlev (NRP) filed a complaint with Public Security Minister Avi Dichter (Kadima) demanding that he arrest the suspects if such a vengeance plot actually exists. “It is not a stretch to say that there are those trying to blacken the face of religious Zionism at the time when it is mourning its children together with all of Israel,” Orlev said. “If arrests are not carried out immediately – this will be proof that we are talking about baseless libel with malicious and evil intent. There are only two choices: either the suspects are arrested or whoever leaked the story comes out and apologizes to Merkaz HaRav.”
Dichter responded later Wednesday, saying he had investigated the manner with the police and Shabak (General Security Service) and found no information supporting the report.
The Merkaz HaRav administration has dispatched a letter to the Israel Broadcasting Authority demanding an apology. If it is not received, they say, they will proceed with legal action. The letter also points out that the segment was broadcast without any oppurtunity offered to the yeshiva to respond to the allegations, "contrary to all ethical and journalistic codes," the letter said.
Hasson told Voice of Israel radio that she stands by her story, which involves students who finished IDF service in the most elite units. Channel 1 news anchor Yinon Magal told Army Radio that Hasson told him the names of the rabbis mentioned, and that they are "well known throughout the religious Zionist public." Magal did not rule out the possibility that Hasson was being "used" by sources within the security establishment for psychological warfare. "It is not out of the question that the people we are talking about are Shabak agents," he admitted. "At the same time, there is a large public that feels that the state has abandoned their security and is speaking about revenge not just for the sake of revenge, but to prevent the next attack."