Anti-Netanyahu protests will ‘end in bloodshed,’ warns public security minister

Amir Ohana says demonstrators blocking roads is ‘violence,’ rallies are a coronavirus risk

Police remove protesters during a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem on July 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police remove protesters during a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem on July 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Violent clashes at demonstrations against the prime minister are likely to end in bloodshed, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana warned on Sunday.

Ohana spoke to the Kan public broadcaster a day after thousands took part in demonstrations throughout the country against Prime Minister Benjamin 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.

“There is a feeling and high probability that it will end in bloodshed,” said Ohana, who has reportedly pushed for the Jerusalem demonstrations to either be banned or relocated away from their usual location, outside the prime minister’s official residence. “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.

In one clash between protesters and counter-protesters on Saturday a man was lightly injured in the neck, apparently after being stabbed.

The minister said that he condemns violence, no matter which side of the public discourse it is coming from, though he singled out the anti-Netanyahu protesters for blocking roads, which he said was a form of violence.

“The blocking of roads, which has become fashionable, is also part of the violence against the public,” Ohana said.

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.'”

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (FLASH90)

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, whose office oversees the police, 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.

Police use a water cannon to disperse demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem on July 25, 2020. (Noam Revkin Fenton)

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.

Protests have been held almost every evening over the past week near the official residence. 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.

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.”

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