Israeli Anti-government Protesters Say Police Tried to Recruit Them as Informants

Numerous protesters report getting calls from police officers fishing for information; covert intelligence gathering is legitimate, police responds

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Protesters clash with police in Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.
Protesters clash with police in Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

A number of activists in the ongoing protests against the government and its handling of the coronavirus economic crisis say that police officers have tried to recruit them as informers.

The protests have grown larger and more disruptive over the past couple of weeks, with police clashing with demonstrators and making arrests.

The police are monitoring online social networks like Facebook and Twitter to try to identify activist leaders and the future direction of the protests, according to sources in law enforcement who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sources also say that after internal discussions in which commanders expressed concern about what they see as an escalation of violence in protests in Tel Aviv and outside the Jerusalem residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a decision was made to deploy Border Police officers and members of the Yasam riot control unit in addition to regular police units.

Israel Police have been holding daily assessments of the protests and expect their number and size will continue to grow for as long as the restrictions meant to curb the spread of the pandemic continue. 

A protester holds a mirror up to an Israeli police officer during a demonstration asking for PM Netanyahu's resignation, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A 45-year-old contractor from the center of the country who, together with his wife, has taken part in many of the recent protests outside the Netanyahus’ home in Jerusalem, told Haaretz that last Monday he received a phone call from a man who introduced himself as “Eldad” and said he was an intelligence officer from the Jerusalem District Police. The two men had exchanged phone numbers during a previous protest, after striking up a conversation.

The contractor, who asked to be identified by only his first initial, H., said that during the phone call, “Eldad” fished for information about that day’s protest. “I understand that you plan to come today too,” H. reported “Eldad” as saying, to which H. said he wasn’t among the organizers but was pained by what is going on in Israel today.

The contractor said the questions continued: “I see that today too you are calling on people to come up to Jerusalem. So if you have an idea how many people will come today, you’ll let me know?” Not long afterward, H. received another call from a man who said he was a police officer from the Moriah station, and said he’d been referred to him by the intelligence officer and that he also wanted to get more information about the protests. In all of these conversations, H. told the police officers about how upset he was over the prime minister’s and the government’s conduct and directed them to social media. “All the protests appear on Facebook,” he said.

Henry (Zvi) Saltzman, had a similar experience. Saltzman, a 69-year-old retiree, has protested in Goren Square over the last few years with the “Crime Minister” activists. Two weeks ago, during a protest outside Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s home in Tel Aviv, he struck up a friendly conversation with a police officer at the end of the demonstration, who then introduced him to another man in civilian clothes.

“He told me – ‘Listen, if you need any aid or assistance, we’ll roll out the red carpet for you,’ and we exchanged phone numbers. The next day he called me. ‘How are you, what’s new, hey – is there going to be a protest of some kind today? Is there a protest in the works?’ I said no. But all day long alarm bells were going off in my head. It suddenly dawned on me that the police were making me a collaborator. Why should I be a police informer? He kept on calling me and sending messages – when will there be a protest? How many people will be there? I told him that if he needs something he should contact the protest movement’s legal adviser. I felt awful. I’m a man of truth. It hurt my soul, it was hard for me to sleep. They took advantage of my naiveté.”

Similar reports have come from other activists in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the north of the country. One leader of the so-called bridge protests received a call from an intelligence officer from a police station in the north. “I exchanged phone numbers with one of the police officers who was very nice and kind,” she says. “He called the next day – ‘How are you? When is the next protest? How many are coming? Are you going to tie yourselves to the bridge?’ It’s very unpleasant. It’s the thought police.”

All of these people have said that they have no criminal record and have not had any previous dealings with the police. One man who was arrested at a Jerusalem protest recently said that before he was released from the station, he met with a plainclothes policeman and they exchanged phone numbers.

'Blag Flag' protesters on a bridge above a major highway in Tel Aviv, July 4, 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“He told me that if I need anything connected to the protest he could help and the next day I got a phone call from him with questions: When am I coming to Jerusalem? When is the protest? What’s going to happen there? Will there be violence? I told him he was asking the wrong person.”

In a written response, Israel Police said they were making every effort to make it possible for everyone to exercise the rights to freedom of speech and to protest within the boundaries of the law and the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, at this time we are seeing protests that are turning into violent riots, with disturbances of the public order, vandalism, attacks on police officers and the blocking of roads contrary to the law,” the statement went on to say.

“Due to its responsibility and job to protect the public order and the public’s health and safety, the police legally use a variety of means and methods to prevent and to deal with violent disturbances, which have nothing to do with legitimate protest.“

“Police preparedness for protests that may devolve into violent unrest requires the presence of numerous and varied policing forces, the gathering of advance information both overtly and covertly, and the use of additional measures and actions that make it possible to stage a legal protest while also giving the police the ability to deal with any violent disturbances committed against the law, and to protect the public’s safety and well-being.”