As Election Nears, Violence Against anti-Netanyahu Protesters Spikes, but Fewer Indictments Filed

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A confrontation between an anti-Netanyahu protestor and one of his supporters in Haifa, two days ago.
A confrontation between an anti-Netanyahu protestor and one of his supporters in Haifa, two days ago. Credit: Rami Shlush

The ongoing wave of protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which at its height attracted tens of thousands of demonstrators throughout Israel, has waned to a large extent in recent months but that hasn’t put a stop to violence directed at the protesters – attacks that for the most part have not resulted in criminal charges.

According to sources in the protest movements, the violence has actually increased recently. Since the outbreak of weekly protests, which have been going on for nearly 40 weeks, Haaretz has found only nine indictments that have been filed for attacks on anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, even though there have been dozens of incidents and many of were caught on video. Police sources say the actual number of indictments is higher but neither the police nor the State Prosecutor’s Office have provided figures on the subject, saying that they "are impossible to monitor."

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By contrast, however, a group called Lawyers for Freedom of Protest said that at least ten indictments have been filed against the demonstrators for leading marches, disturbance of the peace, and assaulting police officers. At least two indictments have been filed for assaults on other demonstrators and other investigations are pending against protesters.

Last week alone, a Yesh Atid party activist was attacked in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak while hanging campaign signs and an anti-Netanyahu activist was pepper-sprayed in Herzliya. Both of them required medical treatment. Similar incidents have also occurred recently in Tel Aviv, Netanya and Moshav Paran in the south. Of 13 pepper-spray attacks on demonstrators that have been reported to the police – including some in which suspects have been arrested and others that were caught on video – only three have resulted in criminal charges.

According to the Black Flag protest movement, in recent weeks, as Election Day on March 23 approaches, there has been an increase in the number of cases of violence against demonstrators, at least those reported to the police or in the media. The group has only been tracking the figures since January, however, after the protests were past their peak.

Two weeks ago, members of the Ein Matzav protest group were attacked at a protest encampment near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem – an incident that was captured on video in its entirety. So far, the police have not located the perpetrators. Last month also saw the latest of attempt to set the encampment on fire. One suspect was arrested in that incident.

Ein Matzav protest group attacked at a protest encampment near the PM’s Residence in Jerusalem, last

In early January, several teenagers threw stones at Black Flag protesters at the Yavniel junction in the north, lightly injuring one of them in the head. Two of the youths were arrested. Yavniel Mayor Snir Arish spoke at the time in a radio interview about the importance of “following the rules and not prompting provocations or creating unnecessary confrontations.”

The police reject allegations that law enforcement has not properly dealt with violence against demonstrators. “In recent months, a large number of suspects have been arrested for questioning,” the police told Haaretz. “Some of investigations have resulted in criminal charges.”

The protest encampment near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

“The details are not accurate or up-to-date,” the police said in a response for this article, adding that over the past year a larger number of indictments have been filed, including one indictment filed very recently. A number of other cases are under investigation by the police or have been referred to the State Prosecutor’s office, the statement said. “We view violence of any kind as serious, and every report is thoroughly dealt with.”

An anti-Netanyahu activist is pepper-sprayed in Herzliya, two weeks ago.

One police source said that as of about two months ago, more than 10 indictments had been filed. Another source said the number of indictments was “in the double digits.” Those figures may include two charges filed against demonstrators at the protest encampment near the Prime Minister’s Residence who have been charged with pushing a supporter of Netanyahu off a chair, injuring her.

Many cases still pending

At the beginning of the wave of protests, the police appeared to be taking rather quick action in cases involving attacks on demonstrators. The first indictment was filed in July against Felix Ilyayev of Sderot, five days after he allegedly stabbed a protester in the neck. Despite the many months that have elapsed since, the case is still in its early stages in court and Ilyayev only recently filed a detailed response to the charges.

In August, a homeless man, Dennis Potodonsky, was charged with throwing stones at protesters in Haifa. He was convicted and sentenced to eight months in prison. Another homeless man, Sergei Haim of Tel Aviv, was charged with hitting an elderly demonstrator in the face. Five months after the incident, he is still in custody because he has refused the alternative of therapy.

Charges have also been filed in incidents involving the pepper-spraying of protesters. Amos Guetta, who pepper-sprayed demonstrators in Tel Aviv, was charged a couple of days following the incident. But Eliran Kambasis, who was suspected of a pepper-spray attack in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, was charged three months after the attack. The case has not yet been tried. In another case, Shahar Yizrailov was charged in December with pepper-spraying demonstrators in Binyamina.

In November, Lidor Biton and Rami Ben-Yehuda were charged with assault and throwing stones and other objects at demonstrators at the Pat junction in Jerusalem and outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. Last week Avraham Mizrahi was charged with assault in connection with an incident in which he allegedly spat at a protester at the Ga’aton junction in the north. Because most of the incidents did not involve severe attacks, most of them are being handled by police prosecutors rather than being referred to the State Prosecutor’s office.

Pro-Netanyahu demonstrators holding signs reading 'Leftists are traitors,' Jerusalem, last month. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

One case that was referred to the prosecutor’s office involved an attack on demonstrators on Ha’arba’a Street in Tel Aviv eight months ago. Most of the incident was caught on video and the police apprehended all the suspects in the incident and established a special investigative team that has collected considerable evidence. The case was transferred to the prosecutor’s office months ago – prior to the fall Jewish holidays – but no decision on how the case is to proceed has been made by the prosecutor’s office.

An attack on demonstrators on Ha’arba’a Street in Tel Aviv eight months ago.

Other cases have been closed – at times for substantial reasons, including a case involving a juvenile suspected of throwing stones at cars in Shlomi in the north. It was closed on recommendation of the probation department. Other cases raise questions, however, including an incident in Tel Aviv in October involving a car ramming. The motorist claimed that he felt in danger and therefore sped up. Demonstrators who were detained with the driver claimed, however, that he had also threatened them.

In its response for this article, the State Prosecutor’s Office said most of the cases are being handled by police prosecutors and those that have been referred to the state prosecutor are being examined.

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