One of the leaders of ongoing protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for comments toward Ethiopian-Israeli police officers criticized as racist, while taking aim at the authorities for seemingly leaking dirt on him to journalists.
A pair of videos surfaced this week of Amir Haskel, a retired air force general who heads the Ein Matzav (No Way) group, shouting at cops of Ethiopian descent during a protest in August outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.
“I brought your parents here from Ethiopia, aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” he is seen yelling at a policewoman in the video released Tuesday.
He made similar remarks to a policeman in a second video, which was aired by Channel 12 news on Wednesday. He was apparently referring to the air force’s involvement in operations to airlift Ethiopian Jews to Israel throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
“Look, first off, everything that I said wasn’t appropriate. I apologized for this and this is another opportunity to again apologize,” Haskel told Channel 12 news in an interview aired Saturday. “But without understanding what happened there that day it’s impossible to understand why what was said was said.”
On Thursday, Haskel said that “the attempt to attribute a racist statement to me is baseless, but if there is someone who was offended by it, I am sorry.”
פרסום ראשון: שוטרת משמר הגבול שאליה כיוון את אמירותיו אמיר השכל צפויה להגיש נגדו תלונה למשטרה pic.twitter.com/rvzKBNawck
— Yossi Eli יוסי אלי (@Yossi_eli) October 6, 2020
In the interview aired Saturday, Haskel accused police officers who arrived at the protest of “brutally” pushing demonstrators to the side of the street.
“They grabbed me forcefully and threw me from there, until at a certain point, I lost my strength,” he said.
Haskel said his comments came “from a place of despair, of agitation, from incredibly frustration.”
“It was clear to me from day one that now they’re beginning to gather material on me, but no one will break me, including the slander about me on television last week,” he said.
Following the release of the second video, it emerged that police had filmed it. The leak of the videos to the media has raised uncomfortable questions about the police being used inappropriately as a political tool.
“I think the fact that a police video reached the hands of journalists needs to cause every citizen in the State of Israel to lose sleep,” Haskel said.
He speculated Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who has decried the protests, may have been linked to the leak.
“I know there is a public security minister who is putting a lot of pressure on police. Is it him? I don’t know,” Haskel said. “I lost my faith in police.”
There was no response from Ohana to the charges.
אחרי שאתמול טען שהתבטא בגזענות נגד שוטרת ממוצא אתיופי ״בסערת רגשות״ – הנה מתקפה של אמיר השכל על שוטר אחר:"שנים הקדשתי להביא את ההורים שלכם. וזה מה שאנחנו מקבלים מכם. תתביישו! זה כפיות טובה. לא תמנע ממני ללכת על מדרכה בירושלים. כי אני הבאתי אותם [את הוריך]. אני הבאתי אותם!" pic.twitter.com/p1b2bV6m42
— עמית סגל Amit Segal (@amit_segal) October 7, 2020
Since his highly publicized arrest in June during a peaceful demonstration, Haskel, 66, has emerged as one of the leading figures of the growing grassroots movement demanding that Netanyahu step down over his indictment on graft charges and his alleged mishandling of the coronavirus crisis.
Under controversial new emergency measures, protesters may not travel more than a kilometer from home to demonstrate and must maintain socially distanced “pods” of up to 20 people spaced apart during the current nationwide coronavirus lockdown.
The measures, approved by the government earlier this month, effectively quashed the protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, which has been the center of rallies against the premier and drawn crowds of 5,000 to 15,000 demonstrators a week.
Under the new rules, protesters have shifted tactics to holding smaller protests around the country, with the focal point moving to Tel Aviv. Demonstrators from the Black Flag group of Saturday claimed that some 200,000 Israeli rallied at 1,200 points around the country, though the number was impossible to confirm.
Ministers extended the restrictions on protests this week, though officials officials have suggested the lockdown could remain in place past its current expiration date on October 14.
Haskel claimed that one restrictions are lifted, rallies outside the Prime Minister’s Residence would swell considerably
“We’re planning a mass rally on the first Shabbat on which it will be permitted to return here,” Haskel said. “We’ll enlist 100,000 — 200,000 people who will come here and say: ‘We won’t move from here until Netanyahu goes home.'”
In the meantime, Haskel and several other protesters have rented an apartment near Netanyahu’s residence on the capital’s Balfour Street to not run afoul of the prohibition on traveling more than a kilometer while demonstrating at the encampment there.