Attacks on people protesting against the prime minister have become routine and are growing worse from week to week. Gangs of Benjamin Netanyahu’s young supporters are chasing and assaulting demonstrators. The violent incidents aren’t isolated cases, nor is there any symmetry between these acts and any alleged violence by the protesters, as the prime minister had the chutzpah to assert instead of condemning the attacks. And really, why should he condemn them? As always, Netanyahu is reaping the fruit of the incitement he has sown.
“I’m against violence by any party whatsoever, both violence against police and against demonstrators,” Netanyahu muttered at a press conference Saturday night. “This has no place in our lives.” And that’s all he had to say in the face of accumulating evidence of assaults on demonstrators by the thugs of La Familia and others of his supporters.
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His condemnation was strictly for the record. His flaccid tone and vague wording were carefully designed to give the thugs a green light. The prime minister openly denies the fact that the people protesting against him are the ones being attacked while his supporters are the assailants. He is pretending that there’s a general problem of violence that must be addressed, even though the violence has a clear political direction – from the right, against the left – as well as dramatic precedents in Israel’s history of political violence.
In this way, Netanyahu has sent a clear message to the thugs: The prime minister is turning a blind eye to your acts of violence. And this message that bloodshed is permissible has been understood by his supporters very well. In recent days, demonstrators at several locations around the country have been cursed, spat at, shoved, hit and sprayed with tear gas.
Yet according to the police, the threat to the public actually comes from the demonstrators. In its recent operations against protest leaders, police have employed a unit whose main job Is investigating serious crimes by organized crime rings, as if protesting were a serious crime. The Tel Aviv District Police’s central unit has been involved in operations against several activists, and unit members regularly show up at demonstrations as plainclothes cops. Recently, activists reported that members of this unit have tailed them even on days when there are no demonstrations.
The police’s job is to protect the public, not to provide political persecution services to the prime minister and his public security minister. Police must not continue playing the role Netanyahu has assigned them in his fantasy scenario about a coup. Instead of persecuting demonstrators as if they were dangerous opponents of the regime, police would do better to take action against Netanyahu’s violent supporters, who have recently moved from words to deeds once again and are threatening the public’s welfare and its life.
Nobody should expect a condemnation from Netanyahu, who has fed on incitement for his entire political life. But other cabinet members, Knesset members and the president must speak out loud and clear against the dangerous violence being directed at the demonstrators.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.