Police arrested 28 employees of an ultra-Orthodox newspaper on Tuesday morning on suspicion of extortion and harassment.
In a nationwide sting, police arrested senior staff and editors of the ultra-Orthodox daily newspaper Hapeles, following a six-month investigation.
Police also searched the newspaper’s offices and collected files, following dozens of complaints that over the past year the newspaper allegedly extorted major corporations, including government-owned companies, in order to force them to purchase advertising in the paper.
Some 250 police officers, investigators and other security personnel took part in the raid, arresting suspects in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Modiin Illit, Ashdod, and other parts of the country.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews rioted in Bnei Brak as the arrests were taking place.
The suspects will be brought to Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s court.
The alleged harassment came in the form of constant phone calls, emails and faxes to the CEOs of companies. The investigation found that the suspects would make use of a call center which they had set up, known as the “battle line,” in which they would set daily targets of which companies would be harassed and to what extent.
Once the call center had received its daily instructions it would allegedly make dozens or hundreds of phone calls, and send faxes and emails, to the heads of the companies and even to their family members, which disrupted the running of the companies.
The paper is the mouthpiece of the Jerusalem faction of the non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox community. It is affiliated with Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who instructed his followers to take part in a series of protests and riots over the past few weeks against ultra-Orthodox enlistment to the IDF, blocking streets and fighting with police.
Among the companies targeted were Coca-Cola, Shufersal, Materna, Tnuva, Strauss, Terra and Optica Halperin, as well as the Interior Ministry.
A spokesperson for the paper told the Hebrew ultra-Orthodox website Kikar Hashabat, “This is a dictatorial attempt to silence us, reminiscent of dark regimes. It will not stop us but will lead us to a stubborn and unprecedented battle.”
Rabbi David Zicherman, a student of Auerbach, told Army Radio that the arrests were an attempt by the government to end the anti-draft protests.
“There was a similar wave of arrests three years ago… also on suspicion of harassment. Nothing came of it,” he said. “Nothing happened because there was nothing.”
Zicherman claimed that the arrests were a modern form of blood libel.
“It is against all rules of a democracy… This doesn’t happen even in the third world, that police work against journalists,” he said.