President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday condemned “bloodthirsty” Arab rioters over violence in Jewish-Arab cities across the country, calling the riots in the central city of Lod a “pogrom,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was reminiscent of dark periods in Jewish history.
Israel ordered a massive boost earlier Wednesday to police forces deployed in cities with Jewish and Arab populations. The move came hours after a state of emergency was declared in the central Israel city of Lod, where intense Arab rioting late Tuesday saw three synagogues and numerous shops set on fire, along with dozens of cars.
The rare emergency declaration in the central Israeli city prompted the urgent dispatching of several Border Police companies to work to restore order.
In a statement with unusually strong language, Rivlin said that “the sight of the pogrom in Lod and the disturbances across the country by an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob… is unforgivable.”
בית כנסת שרוף בעיר לוד, רק בנס לא נשרפו ספרי התורה.
פוגרום תשפ"א pic.twitter.com/DsSQtK1PM2
— בנצי רובין (@bentzi_r) May 12, 2021
“The silence of the Arab leadership about these disturbances is shameful, giving support to terrorism and rioting and encouraging the rupture of the society in which we live and in which we will continue to live once all this has passed,” said Rivlin, who has long worked to improve Jewish-Arab ties in Israel.
“The Israeli government must pursue the rioters with a firm hand to restore security and order while fighting terrorism from Gaza without compromise,” the outgoing president added.
Netanyahu, visiting a police station in the northern town of Acre — which also saw violent riots on Tuesday night — said the government was “continuing the effort to stop the anarchy and restore order in Israel’s cities.”
“There are a series of events that have fed into each other,” the prime minister said. “We are using all our strength to protect the country from enemies on the outside and rioters on the inside.”
“Regarding the riots we saw, unfortunately, in mixed cities: First of all, this is intolerable. It reminds us of scenes from our people’s past and we cannot accept that, definitely not in our country,” he said, apparently likening it to pogroms against Jews. His comment came after Lod Mayor Yair Revivo compared the torching of synagogues to the Nazi Kristallnacht pogrom.
Netanyahu called on Arab community leaders to condemn the violence and take action to stop it.
That call was echoed Wednesday afternoon by an Arab lawmaker from the left-wing Meretz party.
“I expect all my colleagues, [Joint List MKs Ahmad] Tibi, [Ayman] Odeh and local leaders: Get up and say it clearly, unequivocally,” Meretz MK Issawi Frej told Channel 12 news. “I expect and urge all leaders in my community, and I mean school teachers and principals, cafe and pharmacy owners, councilmembers and Knesset members — this is the time to speak out.
“This is the time to calm the spirits, our house is on fire,” Frej added. “We can settle all the scores later if needed. Now we need calm.”
Netanyahu visited Lod during the night, urging its residents to stay home and saying he would impose a curfew if needed. “We will restore law and order with an iron fist,” he said.
Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Wednesday moved his official office to Lod to oversee the situation.
Shabtai called the situation in the central Israel city unprecedented.
“We are seeing a situation in… [Jewish-Arab] cities that we have never seen before, including the incidents of October 2000,” Shabtai said, referring to widespread rioting that broke out among Arab Israelis at the start of the Second Intifada.
“I don’t feel safe leaving my home,” Lod resident Lior Benisti told Channel 12 news. “We wanted to go to my sister, we have two small daughters and we decided to stay in tonight even though we don’t have a fortified room. Better take the risk of rockets than the mayhem outside.
“I’ve been living in the city for over a decade and unfortunately I predicted this would happen,” Benisti said, adding that after recent riots in Jaffa, “I said it was only a matter of time before this happens in Lod. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.”
Some Lod residents said power was cut in their homes and Molotov cocktails were thrown through their windows, Channel 12 news reported late Tuesday, and police acknowledged having to escort some residents from a community center to their homes as Arab mobs marauded in the streets.
A local man, 56, was seriously hurt when a rock slab hit his car, and was hospitalized. Another Lod resident was seriously hurt.
Three Jewish men were arrested Tuesday over the fatal shooting of an Arab man in Lod during clashes Monday night. They were being questioned on suspicion of murder, while maintaining that the shots were fired in self-defense. But an initial investigation indicated that the shots were fired toward a man standing dozens of meters away, and a court on Wednesday extended their remand by three days, with Judge Tal Aner saying the self-defense claim “doesn’t match the objective findings.”
Aaron Boxerman and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.