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Haaretz Editorial
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Israelis protest demanding the resignation of PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, July 28, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Haaretz Editorial

The charade according to which the incitement and violence are taking place “on both sides” has reached absurd heights. During a week in which right-wing thugs assaulted anti-government protesters with fists, broken glass bottles and pepper spray, and sent threats on social media, the police has found time to pay a house call on a citizen who shared an unflattering news photo of the prime minister.

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On Thursday, a man from the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim posted an old photograph of Benjamin Netanyahu raising his arm in the air in a gesture suggestive of a Nazi salute. In response, a police officer came to the man’s home and ordered him to delete the image on grounds that it constitutes incitement - despite having no authority to do so. The police are not authorized to determine whether something constitutes incitement, much less to order someone to remove content from the internet. Such a move requires the approval of prosecutors.

The incident was not only an example of a dangerous overstep of authority, political persecution and violation of freedom of expression. It exposed a serious lack of judgment on the part of the police. By way of comparison: On Friday, activists from the far-right Beitar Jerusalem soccer team fan club La Familia assaulted a Channel 13 news team. La Familia posted messages on social media detailing their plans to be at the protest, and nevertheless it seems the police can’t manage to be at the place and time of these attacks in order to prevent them. Yet a police officer went to the Givatayim home of a man who posted a photo of Netanyahu shortly after it happened, and even threatened him with interrogation. The man’s efforts to explain that the image was genuine, taken by Haaretz photographer Alex Levac at a Likud party convention some 30 years ago and currently on display as part of a solo exhibition of his work, were for naught.

In the police’s defense, it must be remembered that they are not operating in a vacuum. The prime minister, his confidants and the people who speak on his behalf regularly incite against the left and the media. They draw a false symmetry between the violence on the right and on the left. In recent months Netanyahu filed a number of complaints with the police over threats and incitement to violence against him and members of his family. The public security minister urges the police to challenge a High Court of Justice ruling and to act harshly against the protesters outside the prime minister’s home in Jerusalem. It sometimes seems as if Israel is one step away from civil war, with the police in the middle.

In a written response, the Israel Police said the incident will be reviewed and dealt with accordingly. Instead of trying to prove a symmetry between the left and the right regarding incitement and violence, the police should focus on doing its job and protecting citizens from the people who are actually breaking the law and endangering the public.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.