Police chief Yohanan Danino said his forces were not heavy-handed in detaining over 80 people during violent protests in Tel Aviv Saturday night, but admitted Tuesday that the arrest of protest leader Daphni Leef could have been “handled differently.”
Danino’s statement was his first official comment since the weekend, which saw several demonstrations, initially social in nature and later against perceived police brutality.
The demonstration in Tel Aviv Saturday night resulted in 85 arrests after crowds blocked roads and smashed bank windows. Danino said the violence had been premeditated.
It was “not a popular protest but a planned violation of the law, designed to raise their issues on the [public] agenda,” Danino said. “The price for Israeli society is too heavy.”
The police chief said everyone, including the police department, should learn from the violent weekend events, but that allegations of police misconduct during the confrontations were “absurd.” He said that the Tel Aviv police department had set up an internal board to review police conduct in dealing with the weekend events.
The Saturday night protest, which was followed by demonstrations in Jerusalem and Haifa, came after Leef and other activists were arrested for trying to set up tents on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard Friday.
Danino drew a sharp line between the weekend events and the social protest movement of last year, which he called “extraordinary and without disturbances.” He attributed the peaceful nature of the mass marches, which saw the creation of tent cities across the country and hundreds of thousands take to the streets in the largest protests in Israel’s history, to “prior coordination and early understandings” between protest leaders and police forces.
This was not the case over the weekend, Danino alleged, which saw hundreds of protesters attempt to set up tents along Rothschild Blvd in Tel Aviv on Friday without prior police coordination, leading to a violent confrontation with police and multiple arrests.
“The right to demonstrate must not become chaos,” he said, adding that property rights must be respected, but at the same time “I can’t ignore the graphic scenes which have been in the newspapers and online. We are an organization that can take criticism.”
He said that policy has not changed, and the police will do “everything to ensure this summer’s protests are secure.”
In a Haaretz poll released on Tuesday, 69 percent of Israelis said they supported a renewed social protest movement.