Israel Police's Attack on Parliamentary Immunity

Haaretz Editorial
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Israeli lawmaker Ofer Cassif covers his eye after being hit by police at an East Jerusalem demonstration protesting Jewish settlement activity, on Friday.
Haaretz Editorial

The assault by police on MK Ofer Cassif during a demonstration in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem on Friday should shock the entire political world. The fact that Cassif had been participating in a non-violent demonstration and found himself in a hospital emergency room with broken glasses and a torn shirt following an assault by riot-control police, infringes not only on his immunity as an elected official, but also on freedom of protest.

This is not the first time that police have infringed on the immunity of lawmakers. Over the past year alone the police injured MK Yorai Lahav-Hertzanu during the removal of a protest tent near the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, and injured MK Bezalel Smotrich, who wanted to reach the scene of the incident in which 16-year-old Ahuvia Sandak was killed when, it is claimed, a police car intentionally crashed into the car in which Sandak was riding. Time after time the police ignore the immunity of Knesset members and act violently toward them.

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The police violence toward Cassif is another sign of the police disregard for the right to protest. The best evidence of this is the police claim that the officer did not know that Cassif is an MK. That is, the officer thought he was just an ordinary citizen in a left-wing protest, and therefore it was permissible to strike him.

At first, the police even claimed that Cassif had assaulted the officer. Cassif categorically denied this, and his version of events was backed up by a video of the incident taken by a participant in the protest. According to the video, Cassif did not use violence. What it does show is reckless, brutal and violent behavior by a police officer who lost control and acted with the backing of his superiors.

Amazingly, as of now, the police body cameras, which were put into service to prevent police violence, did not document the events in question and can’t support the police’s claims nor Cassif’s claims. Of course who would have believed Cassif if the incident had not been filmed by protesters?

Almost the entire political world condemned the actions of the police, including Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin. But of all people, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana remained silent. This is not surprising – Ohana is the one behind the theory that “anyone who lifts a hand against the police deserves what he gets.” Ohana’s silence is a green light to the police to continue to act violently not only against protesters but also against Knesset members.

Only recently, the former Jerusalem district police chief Doron Yadid, who constantly used excessive force against protesters outside the prime minister’s Balfour Street residence, left the force. The conduct of the police on Friday in Sheikh Jarrah shows that his successor, Doron Turgeman, has not brought a new approach that will begin to restore confidence in the freedom to protest.

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