Some Israelis who have been involved in the weekly protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed anger over Haaretz report on Tuesday that a series of private meetings have been held in Jerusalem between several protesters and the commander of the Moriah police station in Jerusalem, Kobi Yaakobi.
The anger was not prompted by Yaakobi’s remarks, which were quoted in the report from recordings of the talks that Haaretz obtained, but rather the fact that the meetings took place, at least based on comments by some protest activists on Facebook and on the WhatsApp messaging app. Much of the criticism was directed at the members of the protest movement who chose to participate in the talks. Critics said that dialogue with the police was not appropriate and suggested that the police would exploit the meetings to gather intelligence on the protests, although a few people expressed support for the meetings.
As reported by Haaretz on Tuesday, over the past several weeks, four meetings were held between several protest organizers, Cmdr. Yaakobi and another police officer. The meetings were held at a social activist’s apartment in Jerusalem, a short distance from where the protests take place in Paris Square, opposite the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street.
Among Yaakobi’s recorded comments was his insistence that undercover police are not being sent to the demonstrations, and his denial that Public Security Minister Amir Ohana has been behind the arrest of protesters. Amid complaints that the police have been confiscating large models of submarines at the protests – brought there to highlight allegations of government corruption in the purchase of submarines from Germany – Yaakobi said they have been confiscated because of the danger that they have posed to police at the scene.
Protester Tehila Or, who has attended the dialogue sessions, posted a comment on Facebook acknowledging her participation in the meetings. “No information has been handed over, no protesters’ names and no action or locations,” she wrote, adding that the dialogue with the police was not secret. “For me, the aim of meeting is to create human dialogue and conversation in the understanding that for me a proper reality is not created through hate between us. … No, I don’t think that all of the police are exactly innocent and moral, just as I don’t think that all of the police are violent and thugs.”
Or said she has received a large number of supportive comments for her participation in the meetings, including one person who wrote, “I wish I had the courage. I’m simply afraid to sustain the full brunt from demonstrators who wouldn’t agree with it.”
But the talks with the police sparked a lot of criticism from other demonstrators. “I believe you when you say that you acted in good faith, but it’s a big mistake,” wrote one woman. “I’m certainly in favor of dialogue and discourse, [but] not in this case – not in the middle of a war, and we’re in a war. The police are not our partners. They are getting orders from above. It’s a pity. On behalf of whom and what did you meet with them?” she asked. “It’s a mistake.”
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“The police are not my friends. Jerusalem District police conduct themselves in a despicable manner not only at Balfour, but also against the ultra-Orthodox public. The meetings are a major mistake that could hurt us badly,” wrote another
“Quantities of demonstrators have been arrested. They’ve been hit, detained, humiliated at the [police] station by being stripped and searched. You’ve given them the legitimacy that they have been so badly craving, with reason. They are not a legitimate entity. They are serving Ohana. We need to maintain a united front.”
Major criticism of the meetings has also been expressed on WhatsApp groups maintained by the protesters. “All of them are devotees of Ohana, devotees of Bibi [Netanyahu]. What is there to talk about with police officers whose only goal is to beat demonstrators? Wake up!”
One person called for the participants in the dialogue sessions to be expelled from the protests.
“We don’t need to give a platform for Yaakobi’s lies and there are no grounds for meeting with people who are hitting us at every protest,” read an additional comment.
In its response to Haaretz regarding the meetings, the police said: “The Jerusalem District Police hold talks with all the groups participating in the protests. The purpose of the meetings, which have been approved by the district command, has been to permit protest according to the law. We’ve had important discussions the only purpose of which has been to create trust between the two sides. Beyond that, we have no intention to comment on gossip and the content of internal discussions and the things that have been said.”