Activists to picket police minister’s home after he tells cops to quash rallies

Black Flag movement accuses Netanyahu of ‘trying to end the protest’ through his ‘surrogate’ Amir Ohana

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (Flash90)
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (Flash90)

Leaders of the protest movement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that they will stage a protest Tuesday evening outside the home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana after he was recorded pressuring police brass to step up enforcement against demonstrators.

Responding to the recordings, which were aired Sunday evening by the Kan public broadcaster, the Black Flag movement said they “exposed the plot by the Netanyahu family’s police minister to block the citizen protest.”

According to a Channel 13 report, the protest organizers also demanded that the attorney general cancel all fines handed out to protesters, after Jerusalem’s police chief was heard on the recording saying police had stepped up citations against protesters for not wearing masks properly.

“Through his surrogates, the defendant [Netanyahu, who is standing trial for corruption] is trying to end the protest,” they charged, alleging a “machine whose task is to instill fear and terror in the citizens of Israel” and bring about a “Netanyahu dictatorship.”

According to the leaked recordings aired Sunday, Ohana is seeking to “challenge” a High Court of Justice ruling that allowed the continued protests in Jerusalem against Netanyahu, and is applying immense pressure on police to step up enforcement against demonstrators.

Thousands of demonstrators chant slogans and hold signs during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, Saturday, July 25, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Protests have been held repeatedly over the past week near the Prime Minister’s Residence. The protests have drawn thousands of Israelis angry at government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis, and other ills. There have been occasional scenes of violence at recent protests, often from police officers attempting to disperse the demonstrators, videos from the scene have shown.

Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the protesters as “anarchists.”

Ohana, who lives in a Tel Aviv high-rise, has previously been reported to be pushing for the Jerusalem demonstrations to either be banned or relocated away from their usual site outside the official residence.

The recordings broadcast Sunday were from closed meetings attended by Jerusalem Police chief Doron Yadid, other top police officials and Ohana, whose ministry oversees the police.

“We cannot continue with this mess,” Ohana can be heard saying, referring to the protests. “We cannot continue with this anarchy. There is a difference between a protest and the events we have see over the last few weeks.”

The High Court has approved the ongoing protests near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, angering some local residents who have petitioned the court to ban them, saying they have been disrupting their daily lives.

Deputy Commissioner Doron Yadid attends a ceremony marking the Jewish new year at Israel Police headquarters in Jerusalem on September 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I wish to challenge that ruling by the court,” Ohana told the top police officials. “Whoever wants to protest can protest, no problem. But not to make the lives of residents miserable.

“[The protesters] are taking over the sidewalks with sleeping bags and mattresses. I don’t know how to explain to the public why we forbid prayer and culture and art events but we don’t forbid this,” he said, referring to restrictions imposed to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Yadid can be heard answering Ohana by citing the unusually high number of fines handed out to participants of the protest for failing to wear face masks, fines which police have generally refrained from issuing at protests.

“Yesterday [we handed out] 160 fines for not wearing masks in the protest, which isn’t common,” Yadid can be heard saying. “Usually at protests [we] avoid that.”

However, that didn’t seem to satisfy Ohana.

“District commander, you know I appreciate you, but vandalism isn’t only smashing glass,” Ohana said. “Vandalism is also making residents’ lives miserable, desecrating state symbols, as happened yesterday, blocking the entrances to the Knesset, blocking roads, and of course violence against police officers. It is not something you can accept.”

The Israel Police commented on the report by insisting that despite the words of its district commander, it enforces mask wearing “also in protests, without discrimination and without any connection to the identity of the protesters or the subject of the protest.”

On Sunday, Ohana warned that violent clashes at the demonstrations against the prime minister were likely to end in bloodshed, a day after thousands took part in demonstrations throughout the country against Netanyahu. Several people were arrested at the largest rally in Jerusalem as police clashed with protesters. Three others were arrested in separate incidents for attacking demonstrators in the capital and at other locations.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“There is a feeling and high probability that it will end in bloodshed,” said Ohana. “I am really worried by the hate in the air.”

Ohana has claimed several times in recent days that the protests are part of a trend of “incitement” against Netanyahu that he says is worse than the lead-up to the 1995 assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

He also raised concerns that the demonstrations, which have been held almost nightly in Jerusalem over the past week, are a danger due to the spread of the coronavirus. Ohana noted that other types of public gatherings have been banned to prevent the virus spread.

“There always are, and always will be, demonstrations against the government,” he said. “We are prohibiting people from holding social events, to pray with more than ten people together, and to do what they regularly do, in order to prevent the virus spread. Is the virus so smart that it can tell the difference between gatherings for those purposes and a demonstration? The answer is ‘no.'”

On Saturday Ohana said he expected police to act in an “equal manner” against protesters from different communities, amid the sustained protests in Jerusalem against the premier.

The comment came after Ohana reportedly accused police last week of being too soft on the Jerusalem demonstrators relative to other protests — particularly by minority groups — in which police have sometimes been accused of using excessive force.

According to a further report last week, police had pushed back against a direct request from Ohana to relocate the mass protests. Ohana also suggested that the anti-Netanyahu protests be barred altogether, but the police’s legal adviser said law enforcement had no legal authority to make such a decision, Army Radio reported.

Thousands of demonstrators again gathered at various protest points across the country on Saturday night, including at Charles Clore Park in Tel Aviv; near the prime minister’s private home in Caesarea; and, in their thousands, across from the Prime Minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.

Protest leaders have accused police of applying disproportionate force by using water cannons to disperse demonstrators in Jerusalem and have threatened to seek a High Court order against the practice.

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