ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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‘Break their bones’: Ahead of right-wing TA rally, some activists call for violence

Voice notes and text messages circulating in WhatsApp groups ahead of pro-government demonstration threaten overhaul opponents and journalists

Supporters of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan rally near the Knesset in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
File: Supporters of the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan rally near the Knesset in Jerusalem, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)

A right-wing rally in favor of the government’s judicial overhaul plans was slated for Thursday evening in Tel Aviv, as reports emerged that some attendees announced their intention to engage in physical violence during the demonstration.

The right-wing Im Tirtzu organization announced a “March for Freedom” in the heart of Tel Aviv Thursday night aimed at “being freed from the restraints of the High Court,” and proclaiming that the “people have chosen judicial reform.” Several government ministers called on their supporters to attend the event.

Many pro-government activists are unhappy that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted the progress of the judicial overhaul legislation for talks, believing that the democratically elected government should not have to compromise.

Police said several major streets in central Tel Aviv will be shut for the event, and that heavy foot traffic is expected. Im Tirtzu has organized shuttle buses from a range of cities across Israel for those seeking to attend.

Some members of WhatsApp groups organizing the events issued disturbing calls to violence and plans to attack both anti-government activists and journalists.

“Today we’re going to fuck them up and nobody will stop us… we have to shut their mouths,” wrote one group member on Thursday afternoon, after claiming that the left “incites to murder and hatred against us, the right wing.”

“I’m dying to punch them in the face,” another member of an organizing group wrote. Others shared images of weapons they said they would be bringing to the rally.

In a group of supporters of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, one participant wrote that any left-wing protester “who comes to start up provocations will leave in an ambulance.”

In a voice note from one of the groups shared by Kan news, an individual said that “we have to enter the media pen and fuck them up — we’ll go in, take their heads off, break their bones — we have to burn everything down.”

On Thursday, Im Tirtzu called on participants to heed instructions from security officials and “not to bring signs or make calls that incite violence.”

The rally follows a large pro-government demonstration in Jerusalem on Monday, in which some extremist protesters attacked journalists as well as an Arab cab driver.

Before the rally in Jerusalem, police and Shin Bet officers also tracked and arrested three individuals who shared a video on social media of themselves heading to the demonstration and saying they were bringing eggs, knives and a gun in order to attack left-wing protesters.

Right-wing rioters run toward an Arab taxi driver at a gas station in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Three suspects — including a minor — have so far been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the attack Monday night on an Arab cab driver in the capital during the protest. The three were ordered to be released to house arrest under restrictive conditions on Tuesday morning, after appearing before a judge at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

Among the pro-overhaul protesters in Jerusalem were dozens of members of the extremist right-wing La Familia group, some of whom were filmed attacking Arab passersby. Members of the group were also blamed for other reported assaults. The ultra-nationalist La Familia is nominally a fan club of Jerusalem’s Beitar soccer team, though the team has repeatedly distanced itself from the organization due to its racist rhetoric and violent antics. Security officials have previously called for it to be outlawed as a terrorist organization.

A television news team from Channel 13 was also attacked Monday night during the demonstration. Channel 13 reporter Yossi Eli was hospitalized with a broken rib and suspected damage to his spleen and cameraman Avi Cashman suffered a head injury. In another incident, Tamer Alkilani, a reporter for Kan 33, the Arabic-language division of the Kan public broadcaster, was harassed by pro-government supporters at a demonstration in Jerusalem as he tried to give a live update.

Weekly mass protests have been held for nearly three months against the planned legislation, which critics say will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

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