Last summer's protests drew hundreds of thousands of people who filled the streets and exercised their basic right to protest social injustice. The demonstrators did not merely make do with criticizing the situation, but put forward ideas for change. Never before had a civil protest left such a deep impression on the reality of our lives. The possibility that these demonstrations may return in the coming weeks apparently seems threatening to the powers that be, which are preparing for them.
Summoning prominent activists in those protests to be questioned by police in an effort to ascertain if and how they will act in the coming weeks is an illegitimate act. The summonses given to the activists did not state the purpose of the questioning; as the police itself admits, it was not a proper investigation of suspected crimes that were committed in the past or might be committed in the future, but an effort "to better prepare for the summer months."
This attempt to collect information about the protests is not innocent. As the activists questioned tell it, the police warned them a month ago against "stretching the boundaries" and made it clear that at whichever events might be planned, they would be the first to be arrested. It looks as if the police had hoped that "marking" the protest leaders and scaring them would put a damper on efforts to renew the protests. In a society in which one is permitted to demonstrate, at least for now, such threats are not acceptable.
Last year the government dealt with the protests mainly in two ways. First, government spokesmen tried to portray the demonstrators as "leftist bleeding hearts" or spoiled Tel Avivians. When the scope of the protests became clear, the government turned to making promises, setting up the Trajtenberg Committee - then letting many of its recommendations melt away. Nor will the 2013 state budget, being formulated now by the Finance Ministry, bear any good tidings in response to the protesters' demands.
Several weeks ago, police violently dispersed a demonstration in Tel Aviv against Kadima's joining the government. It was a preliminary sign of the lack of patience police will exhibit toward any sign of protest. Summoning the demonstrators' leadership for questioning is evidence of a further deterioration in the power structure's ability to cope with opposition.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch must instruct Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino to immediately cease this dangerous behavior.
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