Suspected police violations in detention of Conservative rabbi

The detention and questioning last Thursday at 5:30 a.m. of Rabbi Dov Hayun, head of a Masorti (Conservative) Jewish community in Haifa, on the suspicion that he performed weddings outside of the Chief Rabbinate caused outrage in Israel and the Jewish world.

But equally shocking was the behavior of the Haifa Police in handling this case, in which they ostensibly lied to the Attorney General’s Office, lied to Hayun and misled the public.

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On Tuesday last week, the Haifa Rabbinical Court set proceedings in motion with a court decision by three rabbinical judges, headed by Rabbi Daniel Edri, “instructing” the police to open a criminal investigation into Hayun for marrying a couple and not registering the marriage with the Chief Rabbinate, a decision which was passed to the Haifa Police.

An amendment to the Law for Marriage and Divorce enacted in 2013 makes it a crime punishable by two-year imprisonment to conduct a Jewish wedding and not register it with the Chief Rabbinate. The spouses are also liable for the same punishment for failing to register their marriage.

However, the Rabbinical Courts have no authority to order the police to open criminal investigations. While the law permits Rabbinical Courts to request police action in cases relating to those refusing to grant a divorce, this applies only to parties in the divorce case.

The original Haifa Rabbinical Court decision “instructing” the police to open the investigation was issued at 8:56 a.m. Tuesday. But it appears that someone in the Haifa Police force knew that the court had no such authority because at 10:17 that morning, the court then issued a second document stating that the original document should be considered as “a complaint for all intents and purposes.”

Any private citizen is able to file a complaint to the police about suspected criminal activity, and the police can then examine whether or not to open up an investigation.

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With particular alacrity, the police that same day called the couple whom Hayun had married to establish the details of the case. They then ed the rabbi on Wednesday.

Notwithstanding that the court has no authority to order criminal investigations, the police issued a statement to the press on Thursday morning after their detention of Hayun became public, stating “The Israel Police is obligated to investigate any crime committed in contravention of the law, especially in light of a binding decision of an authorized judicial institute in Israel.”

The police statement said, “In this instance, the police opened an investigation in light of the decision of the Haifa Rabbinical Court,” and that “in accordance with this judicial decision,” they went ahead and detained the rabbi.

Even in a situation in which a complaint has been made, the Criminal Procedure Law states explicitly that in a suspected crime in which the punishment is less than three years, an officer of Chief Inspector rank or higher is permitted “to instruct not to investigate if he believes that the circumstances of the case in general are not appropriate for opening an investigation.”

Hundreds of Jewish marriages are conducted outside of the Chief Rabbinate every year, including Conservative, Reform and Orthodox. Hayun is the first rabbi against whom the police have taken action since the Knesset passed the 2013 amendment.

In addition to the extreme and unwarranted deference given by the Haifa Police to the Haifa Rabbinical Court, they also seem to have violated Hayun’s rights by telling him he was obligated to go to the police station with them when this was not the case.

The police were seeking to question Hayun, not arrest him, and as such needed to issue him with a summons to appear at the police station for questioning.

The police therefore called Hayun by telephone on Wednesday asking him to present himself at the police station on Thursday morning.

The rabbi explained that he was delivering a lecture at an event with President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday and could therefore not go for questioning that morning. He asked instead to present himself at the police station on Monday following the Tisha b’Av fast.

Oddly, Hayun received two other phone calls from two other police officers asking him to go for questioning on Thursday morning and he explained both times that this was not possible. At no point did any of the three police officers who called him insist he present himself at the station on Thursday morning.

Critically, Hayun never received a written summons to the police station that would have required him to present himself there.

Yet when the police arrived at Hayun’s home at 5:30 a.m., they told him and his lawyer Rabbi Uri Regev of the Hiddush religious pluralism organization that he was indeed obligated to go the police station with them, put him in a prisoner transportation vehicle complete with iron bars on the windows, and took him away.

A police officer is permitted to demand that a person accompany him to a police station, but only if questioning him on the spot is impossible.

Hayun never received a written summons, and could have been questioned at his home. Yet the police decided to detain him in the early hours of the morning using a security vehicle, and took him to the police station.

When Zionist Union MK Yael Cohen-Paran heard about Hayun’s detention, she demanded an explanation from the Attorney General’s Office.

In its written response to her, Attorney Gil Limon in the AG’s Office wrote that “in accordance with what we have been informed,” Hayun did not go to the police station as requested.

“After several summons that were sent to Rabbi Hayun which were not fulfilled he was brought today to the Haifa Police Station,” Limon wrote.

No such summons was ever received by Hayun.

In response to questions from The Jerusalem Post, the Attorney General’s Office refused to comment on whether or not the Haifa Police had lied to it when relaying information about the incident after Cohen-Paran’s complaint, and refused to say whether it would investigate the Haifa Police’s conduct in the matter.

It also refused to say whether the Haifa Police had violated Hayun’s rights by detaining him for questioning without having issued a written summons, and for having told him he was obligated to accompany them without a written summons.

The Haifa Police said in response “Without entering into the details of the case for obvious reasons, we clarify that when suspicion of a criminal offense arises, the police opens an investigation in order to arrive at the truth and for that purpose summons those involved to the police station, whilst strictly protecting the dignity of the individual under investigation and his rights.

“It should be emphasized that there is no connection between police action whose purpose is to bring a person to the station after he did not present himself as requested, and the nature of the allegations which must be examined by the relevant legal bodies.”

Regev responsed, “Every aspect of the police’s conduct is tainted, flawed and criminal” and that he would be demanding that “all the illegal aspects of the police conduct be investigated” and individuals responsible be seriously sanctioned.

“It is a terrible thing that when the Attorney General’s Office looks into a matter it is lied to, and on that basis draws conclusions,” said Regev.

“This undermines the whole system of criminal justice and the rule of law. If the Attorney General can’t trust police to tell him the truth, who can he trust?”