Six protesters who demonstrated against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem on Thursday night said they were attacked by right-wing activists after leaving the rally.
The protest drew thousands of Israelis angry at government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis and other ills to the capital’s Paris Square, the latest in a series of rallies that have ratcheted pressure on Netanyahu and his governing coalition.
A small counter-protest of Netanyahu supporters was also held nearby.
Among those who came out were members of the La Familia Beitar Jerusalem soccer hooligan club, Hebrew media reported. The group has been associated with far-right and racist elements.
The two crowds were separated by several hundred meters, with a large number of policemen on scene to keep them apart and to protect the premier’s residence on Balfour street. The streets around the demonstrations were blocked to traffic.
In five of the instances, the protesters who were attacked recognized the assailants as Beitar fans, Haaretz reported on Friday.
The police said it had arrested several people on suspected of involvement in the attacks, but all were conditionally released without being brought before a judge, the report said.
One of the protesters who was assaulted said that around 11:15 p.m. she and her partner decided to return home from the protest.
“Suddenly on Gaza Street we ran into them. There were around 20 Beitar fans that cursed and attacked everyone coming back from the protest,” the protester, who declined to give her name, told Haaretz. “Suddenly they noticed us and started to follow us, spitting and threatening. One of them tried to take my phone. My partner shoved him. They kicked the car next to us as a threat.”
Another demonstrator said, “Around 11 p.m. we passed by a police position and ran into right-wing protesters who yelled at us.”
“From one of the streets out came a group of guys. I don’t know if they were definitely from La Familia but there were more than 10 of them. A guy with blonde hair knocked a drum out of my friend’s hand, then started cursing. Another guy snatched out of my hand a sign that said ‘We won’t be silenced.’ There was an air of violence,” she said.
Another demonstrator said, “There were four people from La Familia who yelled ‘It’s a shame that Hitler didn’t finish the job,’ and ‘You don’t deserve someone like Bibi, you deserve someone like Hitler.’ Then a bigger group approached me and I started filming them, pushed me and knocked my phone out of my hand.”
A video shared shared by Channel 13’s Tal Shorrer also showed a right-wing group singing a song in praise of Yitzhak Rabin assassin Yigal Amir.
עכשיו בהפגנת לה פמיליה סמוך לבית ראש הממשלה:
שיר ההלל ליגאל עמיר:
״ולפתע פתאום כתם דם באדום
לא רוצים הסכם שלום
לאה רבין רבין זונה
איזה הלם קיבלה
(ההמשך של השיר: ..תודה רבה, יושב בתא בלי חרטה) pic.twitter.com/5G4opLBnsb
— Tal Shorrer (@TalShorrer) July 23, 2020
Anti-Netanyahu protesters have been holding regular rallies outside his official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. Rallies against Netanyahu’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic have also been held, though mostly in Tel Aviv.
There have been occasional scenes of violence at recent protests, and police were reportedly wary of further clashes on Thursday. Protesters have also accused police of using excessive force during the demonstrations.
Police said 55 demonstrators were arrested or detained as officers attempted to clear the area.
Officers sprayed protesters with high-pressure water cannons in a bid to move people off the streets after midnight. Some protesters who were peacefully dispersing were shot in the back by the water cannons, and activists said police left them with nowhere to go.
The protest drew a wide array of demonstrators, from hippies distributing flowers, to a self-proclaimed Likud voter who opposes Netanyahu, to Hadash activists calling for an end to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank. One idea, however, seemed to unite every protester in the square: that the current government must not remain in power.
Israel’s spiraling coronavirus crisis, and the economic effects of its second wave, have ratcheted up tensions in the country and caused a steep drop in Netanyahu’s approval ratings.