Award-winning director Hagai Levi detained at anti-overhaul rally in Tel Aviv

Golden Globe winner says he believes officers held him in police van for 2 hours because he photographed them arresting protesters

Hagai Levi poses for photographers at the photo call for the film 'Scenes of a Marriage' during the 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, September, 4, 2021. (Joel C. Ryan/Invision/AP)
Hagai Levi poses for photographers at the photo call for the film 'Scenes of a Marriage' during the 78th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, September, 4, 2021. (Joel C. Ryan/Invision/AP)

Acclaimed Israeli director Hagai Levi was detained Thursday in Tel Aviv during a protest against the government’s push to radically change the judicial system, as part of nationwide demonstrations against the overhaul.

Levi said he and other protesters were holding a rally at the intersection of Shaul Hamelech and Begin streets when police ordered them to clear the road and move to the sidewalk. Levi suggested the police order stemmed from the waning patience of officers.

“They started arresting demonstrators. I photographed them arresting people and it seems they didn’t care for that too much,” Levi told the Walla news site. “Officially [I was detained] for standing in the street when they wanted everyone to get on the sidewalk, but the truth is that I was standing right next to the sidewalk.

“I don’t get why I was arrested like that,” he added.

Levi, who is known for television shows such as “Our Boys” and the Golden Globe-winning “The Affair,” said he and several others were held in a police van for some two hours before being released.

“I got off easy. I photographed a pretty tough arrest there and it seems to me that partly because of that they targeted me. It wasn’t too pleasant,” he said.

Scuffles between police and Israelis protesting against the judicial overhaul, Tel Aviv, March 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Police arrested at least 92 people across the country during Thursday’s protests, dubbed a “day of paralysis,” and deployed horses and water cannons to clear demonstrators blocking roads in Tel Aviv and Haifa. Among those detained were several leaders and prominent members of the protest movement, prompting the opposition to decry the arrests as “political.”

Meanwhile, a photojournalist alleged she was sexually assaulted by a policeman during Thursday’s demonstrations.

According to Matan Golan, an officer put his hands on her breasts for several seconds to push her after she identified herself as a journalist and asked to cross the police line. Golan photographed the incident, which she said led the officer to punch her in the stomach.

She later uploaded photos of the incident to her Twitter account.

“Using physical contact on sensitive organs is prohibited, especially when it’s a policeman and a woman,” Golan wrote. “Let’s assume today that the officer mistakenly grasped my breast — why add a punch? What if I was pregnant?”

Israelis have held nearly three months of mass demonstrations in opposition to the government’s judicial overhaul plans.

As it stands, the legislative package will — among other things — allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, preemptively shield laws from judicial oversight, and put the selection of judges in the hands of coalition politicians.

While supporters say the judicial overhaul will rebalance power away from an overly activist court, critics argue the moves will remove essential checks on executive and legislative power, putting democracy in peril and leaving the rights of many undefended.

In a statement Thursday evening, Netanyahu vowed to get involved in the judicial overhaul despite a conflict of interest agreement that bars him from doing so due to his ongoing criminal trial. On Friday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told Netanyahu that he had violated this arrangement, which he denied.

While the premier promised Thursday to take the opposition’s concerns into account and seek to balance the legislation, he also said the government will press ahead with the bill to assert control over the panel that chooses judges — saying it will pass in its present form in the Knesset next week.

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