The news that early elections had been canceled and a unity government had been set up prompted about 1,000 people to take to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest what they termed a “stinking maneuver.” In a country that prides itself on being the only democracy in the Middle East, a spontaneous demonstration in response to a dramatic political development should be welcomed, attesting as it does to an appropriate level of civic engagement.

But according to the testimony of many demonstrators, this demonstration of civic engagement encountered fierce opposition. The massive police forces sent to the site acted with great brutality toward the demonstrators, including beating and kicking them.

Five people were arrested, among them two journalists. One of the journalists was dragged along the ground, and when he tried to show the policemen his press card, he was shoved to the ground and put into a paddy wagon. Also detained were leading social activists, including Tel Aviv city councilman Yoav Goldring; Eran Brill, one of the directors of Beit Ha’am; and Nir Nader, one of the heads of the Workers Advice Center ‏(Ma’an‏).

The police say the demonstration was illegal, and that is why they didn’t let the demonstrators march down King George Street to Metzudat Zeev, the Likud party headquarters. But since the demonstrators were nonviolent, confining themselves to legitimate statements of anger against the government, the police’s aggressive behavior is troubling. It seems as if the police were putting on a display of force in preparation for the expected summer protests.

Many of those who attended the demonstrations were active in last summer’s social protests. Until three days ago, the protest movement had seemed to be dying down due to the decision to call early elections. But the establishment of the unity government, which ensures that the present government will remain in power for another year and a half, naturally invigorated the spirit of protest.

Currently, the protest leaders are planning two more large rallies − one in another two days, and the other, dubbed the “March of the Million,” that is supposed to take place on July 14.

This is likely to be a tense, emotional summer. Thus the Israel Police must internalize the fact that demonstrators have the right to express their feelings, even if neither the content nor the tone find favor in the establishment’s eyes. The brutality the police displayed in Habima Square on Tuesday night is not the kind of message the state is supposed to send its citizens.