TAMAR BEERI, GREER FAY CASHMAN
Caution comes after protesters attacked in Tel Aviv; Lapid: Protesters’ blood is on Netanyahu’s hands
Hundreds of protesters gather in Tel Aviv to protest against police brutality and Amir Ohana, July 28. / (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
The assassination of a prime minister and the killing of a demonstrator at a protest are no longer imaginary, President Reuven Rivlin warned on Wednesday, after protesters were violently attacked in Tel Aviv the night before by far-right activists.
“I want to say clearly, given the violent developments over the last day: The murder of a demonstrator who goes to protest in the State of Israel, or the murder of an Israeli prime minister, are not imaginary scenarios,” said Rivlin. “God help our democracy if people start to kill each other.”
The protesters who were attacked had gathered Tuesday night across the street from the residence of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who has in recent days attempted to stop the almost daily demonstrations in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. Their signs read, “Ohana – We have the right to protest!” and “I won’t stay silent as my country changes.”
Afterward, protesters moved toward the center of town. As they passed Dizengoff Center and moved east toward the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, a group of far-right protesters ran through the crowd, attacking demonstrators in varying manners.
Jonah Clarfield, a protester and eye witness to the attack on Tuesday night, told The Jerusalem Post: “I saw an attack with a chair, and later on, I saw someone being hit in the head with a stone: not thrown, but rammed into his head.
“He fell, began bleeding. Some of the protesters chased after the attackers; other protesters came to provide medical assistance to the people who were injured,” he said.
PEACE NOW, an NGO promoting a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, shared a post on Twitter, claiming that the attackers were part of the far-right group La Familia, which has been known to be violent in past conflicts due to political differences.
In the Twitter post, Peace Now shared a photograph of Transportation Minister Miri Regev (Likud) with her arms around members of La Familia, suggesting her involvement with the group and therefore with the people who attacked protesters on Tuesday night.
La Familia announced in a Facebook group to its members that they will be gathering after the end of Tisha Be’av on Thursday evening at the First Station in Jerusalem, sending a message to protesters: “Leftist rags, pay attention: The rules of the game are changing from now on.”
In response, opposition leader Yair Lapid said that the violence and blood spilled in Tel Aviv is on the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his emissaries.
“Whoever sows incitement will receive blood,” he said. “Calling protesters to spread disease, and inciting against civilians protesting, is leading Israel into a civil war.”
Netanyahu said in response that Lapid, much like former prime minister Ehud Barak, “encourages groups of anarchists whose goal is to violate public order and undermine the foundations of Israeli society.” While he condemned the attacks in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said that there was insufficient condemnation of violence from left-wing protesters and of threats made against him.
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) tweeted that “those who attacked the protesters [on Tuesday] are the real anarchists.”
“Divisive hatred has crumbled and continues to crumble the people of Israel, whose true strength is in its unity,” said Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz. “No one will silence protests in Israel as long as we are here.”
IN ADDITION to his warning, Rivlin called for a cooling of passions among civilians on all sides of the political divide as well as by police, who in some instances have been dangerously brutal in their dealings with demonstrators.
Rivlin issued the call just a few hours prior to the onset of Tisha Be’av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, which is said to be the punishment imposed for lack of civility between Jews.
While reiterating the democratic right to oppose and to demonstrate, Rivlin decried all forms of violence, and urged the police to take a very serious attitude to any threats against the prime minister or against any demonstrator.
No threat, regardless of where it originates, should be taken lightly, he warned. “Our very existence depends on this.”
Ohana praised the police for their actions against the attackers at the protests in a Twitter post, despite eye witness accounts claiming that they did not intervene. “Despite all the controversies, there is and will be no permission for violence and each case will be dealt with in full severity,” he said. “The safety, security and liberty of all Israeli citizens, regardless of political views, is a top priority – and will be strictly maintained by the Israel Police. Enough violence, no exceptions!”
CLARFIELD, the protester, explained that the police – who were stationed on the sidelines and prepared to intervene if there would be “public disorder and disturbances” – did not act when the attackers came barging through the crowd.
“No police officer came to help,” Clarfield said. “Some of the people went to the police officers and said: ‘Look at what is happening – protesters are being attacked.’ They were told to dial 100” – the police hotline.
“Police are investigating the local incident that happened in Tel Aviv during the protest when there was a fight between two groups,” the Police Spokesperson’s Unit told the Post. The spokesperson referred to the alleged attack as a fight that broke out between the protesters and those who came and attacked, saying that “police detained one man at the scene.”
On Wednesday evening, one of the people arrested under suspicion of attacking the Tel Aviv protesters was released by police “under restrictive conditions,” according to Walla! News. The other two suspects will be brought before the Tel Aviv Magistrate Court on Thursday in a hearing intended to extend their arrest.
“We are not changing our direction,” former IDF Brig.-Gen. and Ein Matsav activist Asaf Agmon told the Post following the attack on Tel Aviv demonstrators. “We are doing a respectful, legal protest. We will continue and intensify the pressure for what we believe.
“There are organizations like La Familia… that call on people to beat us and scare us,” Agmon continued. “They will not succeed. We call on the police to do their jobs. They must protect us like they protect the prime minister. They must stop whoever wants to hurt us from doing so.”
“There is no room for violence for any reason,” Netanyahu said in response to the attack. “There is also no room for incitement and threats of murder, explicit and implicit, against me and my family, including the shameful threat of crucifixion today in Tel Aviv.”
The prime minister then abruptly changed topics, speaking instead about acts of violence by protesters. “When a police officer is severely beaten by protesters in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence and is in need of surgery, or when threats of murder are published against me and my family daily… the media and many public figures choose to ignore it.”
On Wednesday evening, protesters came to Balfour Street once more, this time to read the megillah for Tisha Be’av. The streets were silent as hundreds sat on the ground and listened in rapture.
Tobias Siegal and Daniel Nisinman contributed to this report.