The police's violent suppression of a demonstration Friday on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, with the close cooperation of municipal inspectors, clearly reflects the government's intent to prevent more social protests this summer. The inability to come to terms with legitimate protest is another worrisome stage in the government's disparaging approach to protecting democratic society.

The scene Friday will not soon be forgotten: Daphni Leef, lying on the sidewalk and surrounded by riot police, trying to protect herself from the representatives of public order. Another demonstrator, her hands shaking and her voice gone, displayed the scratches and bruises caused by the people who are supposed to protect us.

This time, stuttered apologies and innocent looks from Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino will not help. Summoning activists to police stations to find out their plans for the summer is not legitimate. An attempt to gather information ahead of a legal demonstration is not legitimate. Conveying messages such as "don't cross the line" is not legitimate.

We can only hope that the attempt to forcibly silence social protest won't succeed. But the police's illegitimate action, without opposition from their superiors, reveals system-wide contempt for the foundations of Israeli democracy. If the police and the minister in charge of them do not understand that they must respect the protest, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must make a clear statement on the matter.

Experience shows that the chance this simple expectation will be met is not particularly high. Under such circumstances, the attorney general must make clear to the authorities that protest is an inseparable part of democratic life.

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