Protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government in the southern Tel Aviv suburb of Holon reported being attacked by a large group of far-right militants on Thursday, as Israel prepares for a weekend of social unrest following the easing of controversial coronavirus rules curbing protests.
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At least 30 young people identified as members of La Familia, a group of far-right militants associated with the Betar Jerusalem football club, came to confront protesters assembled in a city square. They were wearing black shirts, waving Likud flags and carrying signs that read 'A good leftist is a dead leftist' and 'Leftists are traitors,' and cursing at protesters. According to police officers present at the scene, which were forced to call for reinforcements, they sprayed mace on the protesters.
Two minors were later detained on suspicion of having taken part in the incident. Haaretz photographer Tomer Appelbaum was among those attacked, as was activist Sadi Ben Shitrit, who said "they grabbed my flag, grabbed me by the hands. Lucky people took my child."
"The blood of the protesters will be on [Public Security Minister Ohana's hands," he added. There has been a steady stream of attacks on protesters in recent weeks, with little legal action taken against assailants.
Large demonstrations were set to resume starting Thursday, after a ban on people travelling more than a thousand meters (0.6 miles) away from their homes to protest lapsed on Wednesday.
Hundreds marched in Tel Aviv, led by a coalition of organizations dubbed the young people’s protest movement. Protesters also assembled in Jerusalem, in front of the prime minister's official residence on Balfour Street. The police earlier said they would not limit the number of protesters there.
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Balfour street is where the largest gathering is set to take place on Saturday evening, with organizers calling on the whole country to show up again.
The embattled government and its leader passed controversial emergency legislation in late September, preventing people from travelling to demonstrate, in what some said was a thinly veiled attempt at silencing critics.
If that was the aim of the government, it backfired, with many more Israelis choosing to come out in protest throughout the country instead.
“Over the past month, all Israelis have realized that an indicted prime minister is a sure recipe for disaster," a communique from the Black Flag movement said on Tuesday. "Netanyahu is leading Israel to the destruction of the Third Temple; 35 billion shekels [$10.3 billion] of our tax money is being thrown away because Netanyahu wanted to stop the demonstrations."
“The lives of families have been destroyed and businesses closed, and Netanyahu intends to do everything to skirt his approaching trial. Israelis have come out en masse in recent weeks out of a desire to save Israel, and we are calling on them to continue to do so and come to Balfour to replace Netanyahu.”
Jack Khoury and Josh Breiner contributed to this report.