Netanyahu's Public Security Minister 'Aggressively' Trying to Stifle anti-Netanyahu Protests, Senior Officers Say

Officials say Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is being 'very intense' behind closed doors about the need to halt demonstrations and demanding police act more forcefully toward protesters

Josh Breiner
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Police scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, July 28, 2020.
Police scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, July 28, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is trying to exploit the appointment of the police commissioner to put an end to the ongoing demonstrations taking place outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, senior police officials said in closed-door meetings.

The officials say Ohana is putting pressure mainly on the two main candidates for the position, Deputy Commander Moti Cohen and Jerusalem District Commander Doron Yadid, and that his focus on the issue is “very intense and aggressive.” A police source said he provided several reasons to halt the protests, among which are violations of coronavirus regulations and the disturbances they cause to neighbors in the vicinity.

Ohana said two weeks ago that he would appoint a new commissioner within 30 days.

A law enforcement official said that Ohana suggested the police examine the option of issuing fines to demonstrators for causing noise disturbances to neighbors of the Prime Minister’s Residence. The official said the proposal didn’t go through after it was decided that such a step was legally impermissible because it violates freedom of expression.

In some of the meetings, which also included Jerusalem municipality officials, Ohana insisted that the police should forbid blocking main streets during protests. The police also rejected this idea, as there is no legal way to demand that protesters remain strictly in public parks. Ohana demanded in some meetings not to approve the demonstrations so that the protesters would have to go to the High Court of Justice, which would hold a hearing on the need for a license as a condition for demonstrating.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana surrounded by police officials in Jerusalem, May 2020.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana surrounded by police officials in Jerusalem, May 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

A police source added that in the closed-door sessions, Ohana demanded the police act more forcefully toward protesters.

A senior police official said regarding Ohana’s lobbying that the police “does not try to please one person or another.” He added, “The police operate according to clear rules and the guidelines of legal counsel.”

Kan News published Sunday night a recording of a meeting held last week in Jerusalem City Hall with Ohana, Yadid, Mayor Moshe Leon and Jerusalem council members. Ohana is heard chiding the others: “We can’t go on with this mess. We cannot continue with this anarchy. There is a difference between a demonstration and events like we have seen in recent months and weeks.” He added: “I can’t explain to the public why we don’t forbid the stands (opposite Netanyahu’s residence) and don’t ban this whole thing. Simply give the residents their lives back.”

Border Police officers subdue protesters outside the prime minister's residence on Jerusalem's Balfour Street, July 22, 2020.
Border Police officers subdue protesters outside the prime minister's residence on Jerusalem's Balfour Street, July 22, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Anti-Netanyahu protesters demonstrating in Jerusalem as police use water cannons to disperse them, July 23, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters demonstrating in Jerusalem as police use water cannons to disperse them, July 23, 2020. Credit: Asaf Sharon

Yadid is also heard in the meeting saying that the police have handed out many fines for violating coronavirus restrictions, something it mostly avoids during protests, “160 fines for not wearing a mask during the protests, which is not uncommon.”

For their part, the police express satisfaction with its handling of recent protests in Jerusalem, despite public criticism of the use of excessive force. In Saturday night’s demonstration, Yadid allowed the protest to continue until after 11 P.M. – the time at which previous protests were dispersed – because according to law allows for  noise until midnight on weekends. In parallel, police forces convinced some of the protest leaders to stop the use of megaphones after midnight.

The Israel Police commented saying: “We regret the statements that are brought time and again in the name of anonymous people that do not represent the position of the Israel Police,” Regarding the recording, the police commented saying “the items published were taken out of context and were said in a broad forum in a meeting held in Jerusalem City Hall, something that demonstrates transparency more than anything and that there is no intent to hide what was said. The Israel Police enforces the obligation to wear a mask in public spaces in protests, too, without bias or any connection to the identity of the demonstrations or protest leader.”

Ohana responded that “anonymous tips by senior police officials reflect a poor organizational culture, and I have no intention to cooperate with this phenomenon.” He added, “I have no intention to comment on closed meetings.”

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