3 pro-gov’t protesters accused of violent plot; cops arrest suspect in attack on Arab

Men brought knives, firearm to rally, spoke in video of assaulting opponents; separately, 17-year-old nabbed on suspicion of being part of ‘serious’ assault on cab driver

A taxi cab belonging to an Arab driver who was attacked on March 27, 2023 in Jerusalem by right-wing protesters (Israel Police)
A taxi cab belonging to an Arab driver who was attacked on March 27, 2023 in Jerusalem by right-wing protesters (Israel Police)

A Jerusalem teenager was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of involvement in an attack Monday night on an Arab cab driver in the capital. The assault came amid a right-wing protest near the Knesset where thousands gathered to counter a demonstration against the judicial overhaul pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition, which has now been paused.

Police said the 17-year-old Jerusalemite was arrested on suspicion of being part of the “serious and violent” attack on the cab driver. The victim was surrounded by right-wing protesters who hurled objects at his vehicle and banged on his window, police said. The driver tried to flee via a nearby gas station, but was then “savagely attacked by the rioters who chased him and caused heavy damage to his car.”

A family member of the suspect lied to police about the teen’s whereabouts when officers arrived at the home, police said Tuesday, as the suspect attempted to flee via a balcony. Both the teen and the family member were arrested, according to police, the latter on suspicion of obstructing an investigation and aiding the suspect’s escape attempt.

Further arrests in the incident, which police deemed to be racist in nature, were expected.

Police and the Shin Bet security service also gave further details Tuesday on three people arrested the previous night on suspicion of planning to harm anti-government demonstrators in Jerusalem.

In a statement, the police said the three suspects posted a video to social media in which they voiced their intention to attack anti-overhaul protesters. The video shows three people traveling in a vehicle, with one telling viewers they are on their way to Jerusalem, equipped with guns, knives, and eggs.

“There are eggs, there are knives, there are weapons. We are on our way to Jerusalem to fuck [up] the [protesters],” one of the suspects said in the video.

Once police became aware of the video, they launched efforts to locate the three at the right-wing rally.

The trio, residents of the central city of Yavneh and the surrounding area aged 17, 25, and 26, were nabbed during the protest near Jerusalem’s Cinema City on Monday in the joint police-Shin Bet operation. A licensed firearm was seized from one of the suspects.

The three were ordered to be released to house arrest under restrictive conditions on Tuesday morning, after appearing before a judge at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court. Police said they were appealing the decision.

“Security forces will continue to act resolutely against violence, threats and intentions to harm demonstrators, journalists, police officers and any other person,” the police and Shin Bet said in a statement.

In Monday’s demonstrations, there were other reports of far-right activists attacking anti-government demonstrators as well as passing Arabs, members of the press and police officers.

Among the pro-overhaul protesters in Jerusalem were dozens of members of the extremist right-wing La Familia group, some of whom were filmed attacking Arab passersby. Members of the group were also blamed for other reported assaults. The ultra-nationalist La Familia is nominally a fan club of Jerusalem’s Beitar soccer team, though the team has repeatedly distanced itself from the organization due to its racist rhetoric and violent antics. Security officials have previously called for it to be outlawed as a terrorist organization.

A television news team from Channel 13 was also attacked Monday night during the demonstration. Channel 13 reporter Yossi Eli was hospitalized with a broken rib and suspected damage to his spleen and cameraman Avi Cashman suffered a head injury.

Eli tweeted Tuesday his thanks to police for saving him from “a group of rioters and La Familia members who blocked the road in Jerusalem, spat on us, threw objects and beat our photographer Cashman on his head with a stick.”

In another incident, Tamer Alkilani, a reporter for Kan 33, the Arabic-language division of the Kan public broadcaster, was harassed by pro-government supporters at a demonstration in Jerusalem as he tried to give a live update.

Netanyahu, his son Yair and many right-wing commentators have increasingly delegitimized the mainstream media in the country, often accusing outlets of propaganda and equating TV networks (other than the pro-Netanyahu Channel 14) with Qatar-based Al Jazeera.

Opposition leaders on Tuesday urged the government and Israel Police to clamp down on the violence by government supporters.

MK Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition and the Yesh Atid party, in a statement, blamed Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for the incidents.

Lapid tweeted that pro-government supporters were guilty of “rampant, ugly, and dangerous violence.”

“This is what violence looks like, Mr. Netanyahu, and these are the results of your incitement and that of the TikTok clown [Ben Gvir] who wants to turn his militia of thugs into a ‘national guard’ that will bring terror and violence everywhere in the country,” Lapid wrote, referring to Ben Gvir’s demand for a new security force that will be under his control and that critics pan as amounting to a private militia.

Netanyahu has for weeks accused the largely peaceful anti-government protesters of violence and of plotting political assassinations.

Opposition MK Benny Gantz, who leads the National Unity party, tweeted that he has been receiving “difficult testimonies from protesters who were attacked by supporters of the legislation.”

He urged Netanyahu “to call unequivocally to refrain from any violence,” adding, “Everyone has the right and duty to make their voice heard — and it is absolutely forbidden to raise a hand against another person, harass them or harm them. Stop now!”

Right-wing protesters block roads, set a fire in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Israel Police)

Though there was no immediate comment from Netanyahu, one cabinet member did speak up. Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi tweeted that “the police must prosecute anyone who attacks journalists. Don’t attack a journalistic team, don’t use violence at all. This is a red line that no one must cross, ever!”

Channel 13 said that in light of the incident, it will now provide its news teams with two bodyguards when they cover demonstrations surrounding the controversial legislation.

In a statement, the network said that it condemns the assault on its news team and expects police to bring the perpetrators to justice.

The Union of Journalists in Israel also urged the police to find those responsible. “The attack on Eli follows a number of similar incidents of assault on journalists and medic teams in recent days,” the union said in a statement.

Eli was also allegedly attacked at a demonstration on Sunday, that time by police. Channel 13 cameraman Shai Toni was also said to have been handled roughly and his camera broken.

The attacks on Monday came as mass protests for and against the government’s judicial overhaul across major cities led to clashes with police who sought to clear roads and restore order overnight, as the country still boiled after Netanyahu announced that his government would temporarily halt the legislative push that sparked the demonstrations, to allow for dialogue.

The largest evening demonstrations took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with the former being the gathering site for tens of thousands of pro-overhaul demonstrators and the latter hosting a similar number of protesters opposed to the government’s effort to radically curb the High Court of Justice’s power. Fifty-three arrests were made of demonstrators for blocking roads and creating public disturbances throughout the day across the country, though mostly in Tel Aviv.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu promised to establish a “national guard” that would fall under the direct authority of Ben Gvir in exchange for the far-right minister backing his decision to pause the judicial overhaul legislation. Ben Gvir already oversees the Israel Police and has repeatedly expressed frustration that it does not obey his directives. (The police and its commissioner enjoy a great degree of independence, and while the minister can set policy, he does not have the authority to make operational directives in order to avoid politicization of the force.)

Weekly mass protests have been held for nearly three months against the planned legislation, which critics say will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

Netanyahu on Monday night announced he was temporarily halting the legislation to allow for talks.

Most Popular
read more: