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Video Evidence Supports Arrests in Chareidi Extortion Investigation

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In a dramatic new development in a shocking case that continues to unfold, a videotape has surfaced that appears to corroborate the suspicions of Israeli authorities who earlier this week arrested four senior executives at the popular Chareidi website Behadrey Haredim on charges of extortion. The journalists have been accused of soliciting money from businessmen – both Chareidi and secular – under the threat that the website would expose embarrassing information about them if they did not pay up. The suspects are alleged to have demanded up to hundreds of thousands of shekels from their victims.

The revelatory video shows businessman Yaakov Berger, who recently held a family gathering at his home during which a blatantly inappropriate act is alleged to have taken place, meeting with the director of Behadrey Haredim on the same night. While Berger was wired to record the conversation, a video camera in a nearby wall taped the meeting. “I have a very limited number of clients, whom I keep happy,” the website’s CEO is seen telling Berger. “They have nothing to worry about. The smallest client pays $10,000 a month.” At a later point, the suspect can be seen describing one of the website’s services. “The aim is to create a positive public atmosphere for the client, not just prevent a negative one,” he says, “whether it be politicians, businessmen or institutions financed by donations.”

The police reportedly believe that their investigation will uncover a major extortion plot, but they are reluctant to make specific public statements at this early stage. They did reveal that they expect to make additional arrests sometime soon.

Despite the action by the authorities, staff members at Behadrey Haredim insisted that they were unaware of any criminal acts. “The website will continue to operate as usual,” one staffer claimed. “We are coming up to Passover and there are a lot advertisements and a whole lot of content to upload. We have no idea what this is all about – we are getting our information from the media.”

Behadrey Haredim was founded in 2002 as a fervently Orthodox Internet forum on the Israeli forum portal Hyde Park. Growing significantly in readership, it was later purchased by the Global Networks Group, directed by Guy Cohen, who also serves as CEO of the website.

A top news source for Israel’s Chareidi community, Behadrey Haredim has received acclaim for breaking a number of relevant news stories. These include the infamous case of a woman in Beit Shemesh who was suspected by authorities of seriously abusing her children. Following the report on Behadrey Haredim, the woman was convicted in 2008.

The website faced bankruptcy a few years ago when several notable Chareidi rabbis called for a boycott of Chareidi websites in general, and Behadrey Haredim in particular. The boycott did not have staying power, however, as the overwhelming majority of the Chareidi community continued to patronize the site.

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