ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Ben Gvir said to scold police over arrest of Pride Parade counter-protester

National security minister reportedly sends letter of complaint to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Tel Aviv District Commander Ami Eshed, accusing them of violating the law

A composite image of Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 and Erik Marmor/Flash90)
A composite image of Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 and Erik Marmor/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has accused top police commanders of failing to implement his policies during last week’s Tel Aviv Pride Parade, and of acting illegally when they preemptively arrested a peaceful protester against the LGBTQ rights march, the Walla outlet reported Tuesday.

Aharon Burstein, an ultra-Orthodox resident of Tel Aviv, has for years staged a silent, one-man protest against the parade, standing with a sign that declares “I protest” while quietly reciting Psalms.

This year he was arrested ahead of Thursday’s march, questioned and sent to house arrest until Saturday night, despite the lack of any evidence to indicate he was dangerous, the report said. On Friday, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court released him without any restrictive conditions, while also criticizing police.

According to Walla, Ben Gvir sent an angry missive to Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed, saying police “violated freedom of speech” with the “false arrest.”

It said Ben Gvir noted that in a discussion ahead of the parade, he had instructed Shabtai and Eshed to ensure freedom of expression both for the marchers and for counter-protesters and that Eshed said he would do so.

The minister said the police’s action “appears to be a violation of the law and a violation of freedom of expression.”

“Additionally, this is an incident that goes against my policy, and against your statement that you would enable freedom of expression for everyone,” Ben Gvir wrote.

The report said Ben Gvir has asked for clarifications on the matter by Sunday.

It would be Ben Gvir’s latest dust-up with Eshed and with Shabtai, who have repeatedly clashed with the far-right minister as he seeks to exert greater control over the police force. Earlier this year, Ben Gvir tried to have Eshed removed from his post, accusing him of not being tough enough on anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv.

Channel 13 reported Monday that Ben Gvir has been holding a series of meetings with top police commanders, sounding them out as he seeks a new police commissioner,

The report said the meetings so far are unofficial, with Ben Gvir probing current regional commanders on their interest in the job and their worldviews. He was also asking which of them would stay in the force if they did not get the top job.

People participate in the 25th annual Tel Aviv Pride Parade on June 8, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Ben Gvir’s relationship with Shabtai started off on shaky ground and has deteriorated from there.

Last month, Shabtai said in a television interview there had been a “breakdown of trust” in his relationship with Ben Gvir, with whom he has repeatedly quarreled over the past five months since the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office and handed the police ministry to the far-right politician.

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