Fifteen Far-right Activists Arrested After Attack on Press, Palestinian at anti-Netanyahu Rally

As over 1,000 gathered for ongoing protests against Netanyahu in Jerusalem, far-right extremists attacked media photographers, Palestinian bus driver during counter-protest

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Israeli policemen confronting a member of the extremist far-right La Familia group in Jerusalem, July 30, 2020
Israeli policemen confronting a member of the extremist far-right La Familia group in Jerusalem, July 30, 2020Credit: Emil Salman

The protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resumed on Thursday night, as 1,000 people gathered in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem.

About 50 pro-Netanyahu counter-protesters gathered on the other side of the police barricade. They brought two large speakers, which they used to blast music.

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Meanwhile, dozens of the far-right extremist group La Familia, composed of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, gathered at Jerusalem's Hatachana outdoor mall complex.

This came after the group said it would hold a counter-protest to support the premier and to show the "leftist wimps" that the "rules of the game have changed."

One of them was heard telling another, "All of the media are Nazis. Don't talk to them."

Initially, no uniformed police officers were seen in the area, but after activists attacked two media photographers and a Palestinian bus driver, several members of the Border Police arrived and began detaining anyone with a balaclava or a Beitar Jerusalem scarf over their face.

Fifteen were arrested for causing public disturbances. They were all released under caution on Friday morning, excpet one, whose remand was extended on suspicion that he threw a stone. 

Police also prevented the group from marching toward the Prime Minister's Residence. Around ten members were later arrested by police on their way to Balfour Street.

A Supreme Court judge rejected a request from neighbors of the Prime Minister's Residence to ban the protests after 11 P.M. Justice David Mintz said that with all due respect to the pain caused to the residents, "There is no justification to grant an injunction, certainly not when taking into consideration the date of the protest in question," he wrote. The residents presented their request on Thursday, after they petitioned the Supreme Court last week to prevent demonstrations at the location.

A protest in Jerusalem's Paris Square, near the Prime Minister's Residence, July 25, 2020.
A protest in Jerusalem's Paris Square, near the Prime Minister's Residence, July 25, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

In Tel Aviv, about 100 protesters gathered outside the home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, following Ohana's attempts to subdue the protests in Jerusalem. 

A large police presence, including Border Police and special forces, was in the area. Officers prevented the demonstration from becoming a march at the end of the protest, as it had in the previous protest against Ohana.   

Protesters chanted slogans including "Ohana go home" and "police violence is a daily reality," and carrying signs reading, among other messages, "Ohana is the guard dog of the dictatorship." Some protest chants demand justice for Eyad al-Hallaq, an autistic Palestinian who was shot and killed by Israeli police, and for Solomon Teka, an Ethiopian Israeli teen who was killed by an off-duty police officer.  

Earlier on Thursday, acting Israel Police Commissioner Motti Cohen said they “won’t allow any violence against protesters, civilians or officers."

An injured protester who was attacked at the demonstration outside Amir Ohana's house, Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020.
An injured protester who was attacked at the demonstration outside Amir Ohana's house, Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020.Credit: Ben Nezer / Galatz

“We will continue to allow demonstrations across the country, regardless of their messages or the identity of protesters,” Cohen said, vowing to stamp out “rioting.” 

According to him, “The police are not a political body…We will ensure every citizen’s freedom of speech and freedom of protest, within the bounds of the law. The majority is protesting lawfully, and we, as police officers, must ensure they can exercise their rights.”

A Tel Aviv magistrate's court released two suspects to house arrest on Thursday in the assault of protesters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The suspects put themselves at the scene and said they were involved in the attack, but claimed that they had not planned it in advance. According to them, they were sitting in a bar, and when they stepped outside, they were swept up into the violent clashes. Judge Anat Yahav took the position of the defense, according to whom, the situation was between "two groups who provoked each other."

Police also arrested two additional suspects in the Tel Aviv assaults, and said that they expect additional arrests.

A pro-Netanyahu counter-protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 23, 2020.
A pro-Netanyahu counter-protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 23, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The police are expected to bolster their presence as groups from the far-right, primarily the La Familia fan club of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, are planning to march toward the anti-government protests at Balfour Street.

La Familia, which has taken part in two counter-demonstrations in Jerusalem and whose members were accused of assaulting protesters, instructed its members in a Facebook post to gather at Jerusalem's First Station complex on Thursday night, not far from the protest hub near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"As you know, the haters and wreckers of Israel are continuing to make a mockery of every Jewish symbol and harm every Jewish concept in existence," La Familia's post said. "We never dreamed that this could happen in the State of Israel, and in addition, they are continuing to upload more and more pictures and videos that disparage us and the Jewish religion on despicable websites. Therefore, we do not intend to remain indifferent and take this quietly."

The statement continued, "Pay attention leftist wimps: The rules of the game have changed from here on in."

Accounts obtained by Haaretz show that La Familia members were invited by Netanyahu's Likud to protests the party had organized. In a video obtained by Haaretz, one of the pro-Netanyahu protesters can be heard calling them "a group of heroes" and saying that the "left is done for." He can also be heard calling on viewers to "share how La Familia came here and this will be the end of them.”

For their part, the anti-Netanyahu protesters have started initiatives to defend themselves from right-wing attacks. They started a number of WhatsApp groups to coordinate with demonstrators who are combat unit veterans, who will patrol the streets around the protest, document the event and summon police if necessary.

They have also founded the "Protest Watch" group, which has a number of goals: guarding the protesters on their way home, finding the provocateurs and preventing vandalism. “If a single stone is thrown, the protest has been destroyed, and a single poster of Netanyahu in an SS uniform also destroys it,”

Dvir Kariv, a Protest Watch member, said. Kariv worked for 33 years in the Shin Bet, nearly 20 of them as part of the unit that investigates Jewish extremists. Kariv was also the first to question Yigal Amir after he assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

"If we spot a provocation and a provocateur who won’t stop their actions despite our requests we surround them with Israeli flags and call the police," Kariv said. He relates that one woman at a Jerusalem protest had a bottle thrown at her head. The incident was never reported because she wasn't hurt, he said, but "it creates a phenomenon where people are afraid." The group's goal, then, is to diffuse this fear by giving protesters an escort and calling the police if tension rises.

In another project, started by political activist and television presenter Emilie Moatti, left-wing activists raised money to hire a security firm to protect protesters. Some of the money will be used to buy body cameras for volunteers. “I woke up this morning to many messages about friends who took punches at the protest in Tel Aviv," Moatti said. "In the beginning I tweeted that maybe we should organize some security for these people. Afterwards, I thought we needed to do it instead of writing about it.” Within three hours of sharing the donation link, she raised 30,000 shekels.

The organizers are advising protesters to attend in large groups and to keep emergency telephone numbers handy. “Contrary to the person accused of criminal wrongdoing (Netanyahu) we care about each other,” Roee Peleg, one of the organizers, said. “I hear about people deterred from attending, but they're not afraid. People want to exercise their democratic right, but they didn't come to get stabbed or pepper sprayed. Every blow suffered by a protester is the fault of the Israel Police and the criminal defendant as well.”

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