The number of violent assaults against anti-Netanyahu protesters across the country is on the rise ahead of Israel’s November election, with five attacks recorded in the last three weeks.
In the latest incident, prominent Likud activist Rami Ben Yehuda was filmed punching Israeli war veteran Rami Matan, widely touted for his heroism in the Yom Kippur War when he rescued wounded soldiers under fire by the Egyptian military in Sinai.
Following the Likud activist’s attack on Matan, a scuffle broke out between the protesters and Ben-Yehuda, a campaigner on Likud’s payroll who is facing charges for assaulting a protester in the past. Both parties filed complaints to Israeli police, with Ben Yehuda claiming he was stricken first.
A recent Channel 12 report depicted Ben Yehuda’s warm reception at party events by many senior Likud lawmakers, including former ministers Amir Ohana, Miri Regev and Israel Katz. After he was filmed punching Matan, the Likud put out a statement saying he has been suspended from the campaign.
Or-ly Bar-Lev, an independent journalist and a key figure in the anti-Netanyahu movement, believes that the incitement is coming straight from the top. “It is no coincidence that Netanyahu is not setting limits to his supporters. The moment he does not condemn the violence, he is in fact encouraging it,” she told Haaretz.
She points to the support from the former prime minister and his entourage to the “leftists are traitors” campaign – launched by a Likud staffer in retaliation to the emerging protests – in explaining the top-down incitement. “The aim is to deter people from protesting…More and more people are coming out, and they want to suppress them,” she explained.
The recent cycle of violence began on September 3, when a father and his 16-year-old son attacked protesters from the Crime Minister movement, one of the prominent protest groups in the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations, on a bridge between Rishon Letzion and Ness Ziona in central Israel, lightly injuring two of them.
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An image of one of the victims – his face streaming with blood – was widely circulated on social media and drew condemnation from high-ranking politicians. Labor leader Merav Michaeli blamed the attack on “30 years of wild and violent incitement by Netanyahu against anybody who opposes him,” while Meretz leader Zehava Galon tweeted that “Netanyahu is silent – and this is the result. The blood is on your hands.”
On September 18, several people at two demonstrations in the central Israel cities of Hod Hasharon and Netanya were attacked. Last weekend, a masked man swore and pushed protesters on a junction near Hadera, before he fled after they began filming the incident. Nadav Galon, the spokesperson for Crime Minister, pointed to other “incidents of verbal abuse that miraculously did not develop into physical assault.”
“Most people are not scared or deterred by the violence and incitement, and will continue to come [to the protests] every week. But the danger is real. The incitement on social media is crazy,” Galon said.
In the most recent polls, Netanyahu’s bloc was predicted to receive a slim 61-seat majority. Among the items on his agenda would be to pass an immunity law for a sitting prime minister and defang the judicial system. “Once democracy dies, it doesn’t come back,” Bar-Lev warned.