Prosecutors File First Indictments Against Prominent anti-Netanyahu Activist, Protester

Gonen Ben-Yitzhak and Bar Benjamin are the first of this wave of protests to be charged for acts they are said to have committed while demonstrating, and a senior police official says more activists will be charged soon

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Gonen Ben Yitzhak under a water cannon in Jerusalem, in July 2020.
Gonen Ben Yitzhak under a water cannon in Jerusalem, in July 2020.Credit: Ohad Zweigenberg

Israeli prosecutors submitted on Tuesday indictments against two activists participating in the protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They are the first to be charged for their activism, rather than for attacking other demonstrators, since the protest movement started in the summer.

The indictments submitted to Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court accuse Gonen Ben Itzhak – a prominent protest leader – of obstructing a police officer and holding a gathering against pandemic restrictions, and Bar Benjamin of assaulting an officer under aggravated circumstances.

A senior police official said that more activists will be charged soon.

The indictments were issued through the prosecution, even though the police have the authority to charge protesters for these particular offenses. This is due to new protocols that were drafted in August, to keep police from filing excessive indictments and as not to discourage freedom of protest.

Ben Itzhak is being charged for an event that took place during a protest near the prime minister's Jerusalem residence in July, in which he laid under a water cannon as it was moving toward demonstrators who were calling on Netanyahu to step down in light of his corruption charges and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

He is also accused of urging other protesters to run toward the vehicle “deliberately, to keep it from advancing and prevent it from being used.” The maximum sentence for illegal gathering is a year in prison; the minimal sentence for obstructing an officer is two weeks in prison and the maximum is three years.

Ben Itzhak is an attorney for protesters arrested during the demonstrations and regularly represents activists in hearings with police.

Benjamin, 29, from Jerusalem, is accused of pepper spraying a police officer who tried to remove her after a protest in September from outside the prime minister’s residence. The indictment says an officer announced the protest was over, but she and other activists refused to leave the area.

Afterwards, the indictment says, she sprayed an officer who tried to forcibly remove her. The minimum penalty for assaulting an office in aggravating circumstances is three months in prison; the maximum is five years.

The Black Flag protest movement said the police, via Jerusalem police chief Doron Yadid, "are persecuting the leaders of protests against corruption.”

The Crime Minister protest group said: “The Balfour police have begun a campaign of hunting down protest leaders. Under the sponsorship of [Public Security Minister Amir] Ohana’s poodle, Doron Yadid, there are no red lines the police haven’t crossed in their drive to suppress the protests.”

The prosecutors’ office said the fact the indictments were submitted expresses “a policy set with the aim of providing a proper balance between the basic rights of all citizens to participate in demonstrations and express themselves freely, and the public interest of seeing to public safety and safeguarding public property, the rule of law and public order.”

Haaretz reported this weekend that the police had asked the prosecution to submit another indictment against Yishai Hadas of the Crime Minister movement and against other central activists questioned in connection with assaults against police officers. Some of the activists have been called in to the Jerusalem District Police Station for additional questioning over the past few days regarding events that occurred in July and August.

In recent months police have recommended that prosecutors issue dozens more indictments against protesters, mainly eyeing the demonstrators against Netanyahu.

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