The Israel police claimed on Saturday that anti-Netanyahu protesters were calling to use tear gas against the police at the demonstrations, basing their information on a false Facebook post shared by right-wing activists.
A high-ranking police officer first made this claim on a live broadcast on Channel 13 News, followed by an official police statement, also mentioning as true what turned out to be a false report.
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“As for Balfour,” Chief Superintendent Ziv Sagiv said, referring to the protests near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence, “a few minutes ago I received a screenshot of a message with a statement by the Crime Minister movement. They are asking protesters to bring tear gas and taser guns to use against the police.”
Sagiv, who is chief of investigations in the police Investigations Branch, said in the interview that “this is inconceivable. We are facing a red line of what can and can’t be done at a protest. There are things we can’t allow.” An official police statement that ensued said: “Posts published on social media contained calls by various elements to bring tear gas by which to harm others, including the intent by protesters to use it against police.”
The fake post, supposedly written in the name of the Crime Minister movement, stated: “Dear friends, at the central protest sites against the hated enemy from Balfour, we will hand out tear gas and tasers to the heads of teams, and if someone feels threatened by obstinate civilians or police, it can be used and sprayed at them legally!!! Remember to wear a mask so as not to be hurt by this very strong gas.”
About an hour later the police published a clarification: “A short time ago a statement was issued by a spokesman for the Crime Minister movement clarifying that posts calling for people to bring tear gas and by this means to injure others, was not published by them and is fake news."
On Sunday, Police confirmed that the fake page was removed earlier in the day by its owner, not by Facebook or the police, adding that it was managed by an Israeli admin.
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Attorney Gonen Ben-Yitzhak, a leader of the protest movement against Netanyahu, filed a police complaint on Saturday night against the administrators of the false page, and the movement is filing a suit against Chief Inspector Sagiv on Sunday.
The fake page, which purports to represent the Crime Minister movement, was set up about 10 days ago and removed on Sunday morning. The page had eight followers, as opposed to the 65,000 on the real Crime Minister page. Like the real page, the false one also has a post explaining how funds are raised for the protests. A response on the fake page speaks of “making noise and breaking Netanyahu’s head.”
On Thursday evening the first post was published stating: “We are the backup page for the official Crime Minister. Updates to follow!” The Crime Minister movement said this was a well-known means of spreading false messages in its name.
“Over the past few hours, screenshots of the fake Crime Minister page posts have been spread,” the movement said on Saturday night. “This is fake news, low and contemptible. We demand that the police launch an urgent investigation to find those responsible for spreading these lies and demand that the police immediately retract on every possible platform the attempt to attribute to Crime Minister what was stated in the fake posts.”
According to the movement, “If Chief Inspector Sagiv does not apologize in the next hour and retract his spread of the false news on live TV in the Channel 13 studio; he will be sued for slander. The Israel Police has crossed a red line and has inconceivably cooperated with the spreading of a falsehood about us without fact checking. We can only state unequivocally that the police are a political institution that does everything to sabotage protests in the loyal service of the defendant from Balfour on instructions of [Public Security] Minister Ohana.”