Yekutiel Ben-Yaakov, convicted over a private referendum he conducted, was sentenced on Tuesday to 200 hours of community service, along with a suspended sentence of six months in jail. Ben-Yaakov's parole period is to last for three years. About 50 demonstrators, including some musicians playing protest songs, showed up outside the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on Tuesday, where sentencing took place.
Ben-Yaakov, of Kfar Tapuach, was convicted for "incitement to racism" as a result of a street referendum he designed prior to Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. His referendum asked which was preferable: then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Disengagement Plan, which would expel Jews from Gaza and Samaria, or an alternate plan to expel hostile Arabs from Israel. More than 100,000 people from Israel's major cities participated in the referendum, with over 90 percent saying they would rather expel hostile Arabs. More than 100,000 people... participated in the referendum, with over 90 percent saying they would rather expel hostile Arabs.
"It's outrageous that a country that calls itself a democracy can put someone on trial for making a referendum," Ben-Yakov told the press before sentencing. "A referendum is the purest form of democracy.”
Ben-Yaakov believes he was charged with incitement not because of the nature of the referendum, but because it demonstrated to the government to what extent the Disengagement Plan went against the will of the majority.
Participants in Ben-Yaakov's referendum were given a ballot card asking if they "prefer the 'Sharon/Peres Disengagement Plan,' which includes transferring Gaza and parts of the West Bank to Palestinian control and expulsion of all Jews who live there. Or do you prefer the 'Jewish Alternative Disengagement Plan,' which includes annexing these territories and expulsion of the Arabs living there to an area outside Israel, deep beyond a safe security buffer zone?"
Jerusalem-based Human rights activist Attorney Irving Gendelman calls into question the validity of the incitement law and asks, "Would a person be culpable if his alleged act of incitement was intended only to express an opinion on political issues inherent in a democratic country?" Gendelman says that use of the law at the expense of basic human rights inclusive of the right to democratically oppose governmental political policies "is an anathema." He concludes, "In Israel, it is debatable whether full freedom of expression within democratic norms is permitted by the Israeli Government."
Yekutiel Ben-Yaakov, formerly known as Mike Guzofsky, moved to Israel from New York. He ran the Hatikva Jewish Identity Center for one of the Jewish Defense League branches in New York City.