After two weeks of trying to make their presence felt and to defend the Balfour fortress bodily – the Bibi-ists are getting the message that they’ve been defeated in the battle for Jerusalem. If they thought they’d be able to provide a contrast to the anti-government Black Flag demonstrators and drown out the protest festival with symmetrical cacophony – they realize now that this is not their party. Their presence has become purely symbolic.
Last Saturday night there were barely 20 of these right-wingers, outside the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his family in Jerusalem. Their meager compound, festooned with Israeli flags and portraits of their leader, stood as a sort of testimony – like the rusted armored vehicles from the War of Independence on Route 1 at Sha’ar Hagai, en route to Jerusalem.
Last Thursday evening (July 23) they were still optimistic. In a last-ditch attempt, they issued a general summons. The aim was for thousands to come demonstrate, show their gratitude to the prime minister and silence the leftists once and for all. It did not turn out well. There were maybe 300 people there, and that’s being generous.
Later in the evening, when it seemed as if the protest was petering out, there was an announcement that reinforcements were on the way: Members of La Familia – an extremist group of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team – were coming.
Until that moment, members of that group had been ensconced outside the Knesset around its iconic menorah statue, to protect it from another bare-breasted attack (a few days earlier a female anti-government protester had taken off her shirt there). Once they made sure that the innocence of the menorah was intact, the La Familia people embarked on what was promised to be a march from Givat Ram to Balfour, in Rehavia.
They were to add a little spark to the demonstrators there, whose enthusiasm had started to wane. After all, how many speeches can one listen to about Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, former state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, pedophiles and the so-called Bolshevik rabble?
There’s nothing like La Familia to inject new blood into such an event. Preferably the blood of leftists. Every couple of minutes the emcee downtown informed his flock of the progress of the march, promising the crowd there was something to wait for, that it paid to stay. “Very soon our friends from La Familia will arrive!”
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At 9:10 P.M. they arrived, around 50 young men, some of them in black hoodies and scarves that hid their faces. They entered in a line and immediately began to sing out: “All leftists are whores! All leftists are whores!” The anonymous emcee welcomed them and thanked them for coming.
After the Familias tried to excite the crowd with cries of “Mohammed is dead” and such, they started to march toward the makeshift stage, perhaps to take control of the PA system. The emcee tried to get them to calm down. “Guys, please don’t get up on the stage, let’s keep it orderly.”
A commotion erupted near the stage, which was messy and overcrowded as it was, and the emcee began begging: “La Familia, let’s not make a mess. The media are here, they only want to film us in chaos, fighting with one another … please don’t get up on the stage.”
La Familia is a distant branch of Bibi-ists in the right-wing family tree. They are isolationists, don’t take orders from anyone (other than the Creator) and couldn’t care less about Mendelblit, Nitzan or Liat Ben-Ari, the prosecutor in the Netanyahu corruption trial. And it doesn’t seem as if the prime minister interests them very much, either: Apparently the only thing that they care about is "screwing leftists."
When the gang saw that there wasn’t much for them to do at this festival and that they weren’t wanted on stage, they turned and left the gated demonstration area and began to march down nearby Arlosoroff Street, though it wasn’t clear why. One of them said they were going to “defend Balfour”; another spoke of “attacking leftists.”
After around five minutes of meandering, voices were heard from up ahead: “We’re turning around and going back!” The group about-faced and walked back toward the other demonstrators, but they were blocked: An Israel Police force at the scene didn’t let them approach. They tried to argue, yelled and cursed. It didn’t help. For a few minutes they stood there, restless, feeling as if something was happening somewhere and they were missing it. They smelled leftists, and they were so close. One of them cursed out the police.
Somehow, although the Familias seemed to have no clear leader, they began to move north, as if governed by some internal radar, along Arlosoroff, turning right at the corner of Ramban Street. Suddenly their objective became clear: to infiltrate the left-wing protest from behind.
The La Familia people were quite young – teenagers, really. Some had black shirts covering their faces, but there were also youngsters with them, aged 9 to 11. They sang and marched to soccer chants, “Where are those assholes of Antifa?” and “Tel Aviv is going up in flames.”
The group didn't have a chance of holding out more than five minutes against the masses at the other demonstration, but they continued, determined. “Where are the leftists? Let them demonstrate in Gaza.” A religious couple, residents of Rehavia who were standing in the street with a baby carriage, looked at them with half a smile, like an attraction. The husband was photographing the march when a chubby teenager came up to him, covered the phone with his hand and said, “Don’t film.” This was immediately echoed by other teens, yelling “Don’t film! Don’t film!”
The La Familia group proceeded until it reached an impassable obstacle: Four mounted police on black horses were standing quietly in the road, blocking the way. The youths were stymied but their energy could no longer be contained. The aggression that erupted in them, the youthful rage or boredom that leads to outbursts of violence, couldn’t have been stopped by a battalion of cavalrymen. Certainly not now, when the left-wingers were so close they could smell them.
A young man and young woman, she wearing a pink bandana and he carrying a sign with a drawing of Netanyahu with a pig’s nose, walked down the street from the direction of the bigger demonstration. “Leftists!” yelled the La Familia youths, adding an expletive. The chorus resumed chanting “Where are the whores of Antifa?” and “Tel Aviv is going up in flames” at the top of their lungs. Suddenly the group noticed a family of protesters – parents and a teenager – and started to curse. “Arabs’ whores,” “Stinking leftists,” “Go back to Tel Aviv.”
The gang started to approach the family, which froze in place, but suddenly riot police appeared and pushed the Familias away and off the street, with the help of some other officers. The group backed off, some of them cursing the police, promising, “We will f--k you yet!”
Sharks on the move
At this stage, the La Familia people broke up into several smaller groups. One of them, with around 25 activists, started looking for trouble in the winding streets of downtown Jerusalem. At the end of Arlosoroff Street, they turned left on Jabotinsky, not far from the President’s Residence, circling Balfour Street from the east. Some ran forward, eager; others straggled behind.
A young man in a black knitted cap, who limped and walked with a cane, was trying to keep up with the group. On the street they noticed a young, curly-haired girl, who looked a bit hippie-ish. “F--k your mother, whore,” one of the gang shouted, and spit on the street. “Go back to Tel Aviv, Antifa whore,” another yelled. A young man with a black scarf covering half his face came up from behind and reined them in; “Yallah, come on, leave her alone. They shouldn’t say afterward that we attack girls.”
The Familias continued walking briskly through the dark streets. All this time I was with them, as was journalist Nir Gontarz, who was holding a microphone with the logo of “Hatzinor,” the late-night Channel 13 television show. None of them asked us what or who we were or what we were doing there. Like sharks on the move, they wanted to advance, to hunt down prey on the street and get closer to the big demonstration.
On an especially small and dark street, a cry suddenly rose up: “A Palestinian flag! He has a Palestinian flag!” The La Familia folks streamed in the direction of a man with long hair and beard, pushed and started to beat him, yelling, “F--king Palestinian, get out of Jerusalem!” The bearded man lay on the ground with his possessions strewn about: a black flag and a Rastafarian flag (green, yellow and red). “He has a Palestinian flag,” they continued to shout as they kicked and spit on him.
The whole thing happened in seconds. The bearded man tried to protect his head with his hands, and suddenly out of nowhere there appeared a man of at least 50, who looked like a Jerusalemite of generations past.
He stood over the cowering victim and yelled: “What are you doing? Are you crazy? You’re going to kill him!” The youths said: “Let this f--ker get out of here, he has a Palestinian flag.” The older man said, “What’s a Palestinian flag? Look at him, look what you did to him! What – don't you have anything else to do?”
The youths apparently had stopped being amused by their victim. One of them gathered some momentum, ran a few meters and landed a heavy kick on the head of the man, who was lying folded up in a fetal position. From out of the darkness, police officers came running. The Familias dispersed; one or two were caught and detained by the officers but the rest managed to flee.
The group near us now numbered less than 20 guys. They made their way through alleys, through the backyards of residential buildings and the passageways between them. They looked determined and continued to walk, as if some internal GPS was showing them the way, and then gathered in a circle, as if they were about to be briefed, although it wasn’t clear by whom. Suddenly one youth thought he saw a police officer coming out of a nearby building and in a second some of the group ran off.
At that point we were joined by a videographer, because Gontarz was meant to start a live broadcast for “Hatzinor.” The Familias saw the camera and immediately raised their hands to cover their faces. “Don’t film! Don’t film, we’re telling you.”
An argument ensued, and Gontarz explained to them in a logical way that he only wanted to report, that he wasn’t against them and that anyone who didn’t want to be filmed could stand behind the camera. The guys did not seem convinced, but they didn’t make a fuss, either. Some tried to explain themselves. There was even a stage at which it seemed as if one could conduct a rational conversation with them. They were stubborn, but answered and explained.
On the other hand, the moment someone got aggressive (“We said you’re not filming – so you’re not filming!”), another became hostile and still another threatened to smash the camera. One could see how the situation could easily have escalated into violence.
'Go to the Arabs'
By this time the number of Familias had dwindled. Under the street lights they looked like young teenagers, toy thugs. Not a nationalist terror cell. A moment before the live TV broadcast was to begin, three of the youths found a sign from the left-wing protest reading, “Disconnected. We’re fed up with you,” and tried to set it on fire. But when they saw the camera, they raised their hands toward it and made it clear that if what they were doing was filmed, the camera would be smashed – along with our heads.
The tone of voice got more strident and then the group noticed an older woman standing in the street. A leftist protester in a black shirt. She stopped there, as if frozen in the headlights of a truck, staring and not daring to cross the street. “Get out of here, whore,” they said. “Go to the Arabs.”
The woman was shocked, but answered back: “Tell me, am I supposed to be afraid to walk the streets of Jerusalem?” “Yes,” answered one of the youths. “It’s very good that you’re afraid.”
Suddenly there was a noise from the side. The movement of an arm, a raised stick and youths getting hit on the head. The group was shocked; they didn’t know what had hit them and began to back away. Then they saw what had happened: A man, not young, with a gray ponytail, was standing crouched, holding the splintered stick of a flag (which had been broken over their heads) like a baseball bat, waiting. The gang approached. The man wouldn’t have stood a chance against them but at that moment a police motorcycle drove up and its rider apparently saved his life – or at least a few of his limbs.
The officer remained there, guarding the live TV broadcast. Most of the remaining La Familia people had dispersed by then; only a few youths remained, trying to interfere with the filming by sticking their hands in front of the camera.
The officer called over one of the smaller boys and asked: “Kid, how old are you?”
“What are you doing here? Where are your parents?”
“I came to demonstrate.”
“Demonstrate? What are you protesting here on the street?”
“Against the leftists, may their names be blotted out.”
“Get out of here,” the officer said. “Go home.”