Guy Cohen, the former owner and CEO of the Behadrei Haredim news website, his top deputy Uri Zur, and three companies owned by Cohen have all been charged with blackmail and extortion of top haredi rabbis.
Above: the alleged extortion of Yaakov Berger
Former Owner Of Top Haredi News Website Indicted For Bribery And Extortion
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
Guy Cohen, the former owner and CEO of the Behadrei Haredim news website, his top deputy Uri Zur, and three companies owned by Cohen have all been charged with blackmail and extortion, Ha’aretz reported.
Cohen is not haredi.
The defendants allegedly forced senior haredi rabbis to buy ad space for large sums of money in exchange for removing unflattering comments and articles about them from the Beharedi Haredim website.
They “extorted [the rabbis] with threats, conditioning the removal of the comments on receiving payment” and sometimes victims were forced to buy an “overall advertising deal” that victims were told would serve as “protection from posting negative or offensive content on the forum,” the indictment reportedly says.
The deals to remove the negative articles and comments were agreed on orally but were not put in writing.
The site’s news editors, some of its journalists, and prominent public relations professionals in the haredi community were reportedly involved in some of the extortion and blackmail, but were not criminally charged.
The criminal investigation of Cohen and the others began in April 2012 after a secretly recorded video showed Cohen offering a prominent haredi community leader, Yaakov Berger, a deal that would enable him to “sleep quietly” in response to Berger’s request to have an embarrassing item about an alleged adulterous affair removed from the site.
Cohen at first offered to sell Berger a “first class” plan with a year’s commitment to keep the damning information off the Behadrei Haredim website.
Berger refused to pay, and Behadrei Haredim posted an “exposé” on Berger’s alleged affair.
The indictment details 11 charges of blackmail and extortion committed against top haredi rabbis in in 2010-2012 alone, including Breslov hasidic Shuvu Banim sect leader Rabbi Eliezer Berland (who fled Israel after female followers complained he sexually abused them) and Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto (who has since been convicted of bribery and related crimes).
Rabbis were asked to pay thousands of dollars per month to protect their reputations from damage from negative stories about them that were often true.
Meir Gal, the current owner of Behadrei Haredim, told Ha’aretz he was not linked to the case and that there are no legal proceedings against Behadrei Haredim.