At Right-wing Protests, Freedom of Expression Is One Thing, Violence Another

Counterdemonstrators in support of the Gaza war are getting out of hand. It's not just a question of freedom of expression.

Or Kashti
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Israeli rapper Yoav Eliasi, known as "the Shade," with fellow right-wingers in central Tel Aviv, July 12, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Or Kashti

The organizers of last Saturday night’s demonstration against the Gaza war asked participants to disperse in groups after the event, not one by one. This was a lesson from the previous week, when right-wing thugs verbally and physically assaulted left-wing protesters.

This also occurred at a rally in Haifa; stones and water bottles were thrown at demonstrators. Left-wing protesters talked about “manhunts” and long moments of tangible fear, with the police failing to provide basic security.

The trampling of anyone who doesn’t march to the tune of war drums and the accompanying demand for “national unity” has been going on for a while on social media. It’s now oozing onto the streets. Anyone seeking to exercise his right to protest the consensus defined by right-wing rapper Yoav Eliasi knows he will, at best, be the target of spit and punches.

The Haifa protesters said thugs had accosted some of their friends on the way to the event. The demonstrators were asked where they were going and were stopped in their tracks. This is how a populist militia operates — intimidation and violence untrammeled by law and order.

The seeds planted by right-wing group Im Tirtzu five or six years ago, with the direct support of Benjamin Netanyahu, Gideon Sa’ar and other Likud ministers, have been cultivated with love and devotion. From the “purification” of academic institutions we now get the purification of our streets. You don’t have to be a post-Zionist – it’s enough to hold left-wing views to be considered a traitor.

Some left-wing demonstrators have said it was precisely this atmosphere of fear that drew them out of their homes. Others are worried, thinking things over carefully before expressing an opinion or joining a protest.

It’s unlikely that politicians who incite will change their ways or that their colleagues who hold their tongues will suddenly speak out against the hatred and racism. Under these circumstances, it’s up to the police to ensure the freedom to demonstrate. What happened at the Tel Aviv and Haifa demonstrations doesn’t bode well.

Over a week ago, only a small police contingent was sent to a Tel Aviv event; they couldn’t separate the right-wing thugs from the left-wing demonstrators. Amid the criticism that followed, the police’s numbers were augmented Saturday and the two sides were kept apart most of the time.

But this improvement wasn’t translated into a binding nationwide policy, as proved by the events in Haifa. “There wasn’t much preventing us from being lynched — with policemen standing by,” said one protester. People are afraid.

The police say leftists’ complaints about thugs arise from “hypersensitivity” given the current situation. They say that overall, demonstrators haven’t gotten out of hand; they haven’t been particularly violent. The policy is to allow “freedom of expression on all sides,” they say.

This is one reason left-wing demonstrators are complaining about the police. Freedom of expression doesn’t include legitimizing violence. So far, leftist demonstrators haven’t prevented anyone from attending a protest. They haven’t stoned people and chased them in the streets after an event.

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