Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his first public response on Wednesday afternoon to suspected right-wing attacks on protesters who demonstrated the previous evening in Tel Aviv against his government.
The statement, which came after the prime minister was panned for his nearly day-long silence following the violence, made a point of mentioning a police officer who was injured in a recent protest as well as alleged threats against Netanyahu and his family.
“The investigation of the incident in Tel Aviv is underway. I expect the police to get at the truth and bring to justice those responsible. There’s no room for violence for any reason,” he wrote on Facebook.
He added, “At the same time, there’s no room for incitement or threats of murder — explicitly or implicitly — against me and members of my family, including the shameful threat of crucifixion made today in Tel Aviv.”
Netanyahu was referring to an art installation placed in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Wednesday morning that depicted the prime minister eating a sumptuous meal, including an oversize cake, at a banquet table, in a play on Jesus’s Last Supper.
Several suspected far-right members attacked protesters late Tuesday as they took part in a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana.
The attackers were seen hitting demonstrators with glass bottles, clubs and chairs and spraying them with mace. Organizers of the protest said five people were hospitalized, including two with stab wounds to their backs. Later reports said 10 people were hospitalized.
The premier in his post accused the media and political rivals of ignoring violence toward police and alleged threats against him, singling out opposition leader MK Yair Lapid, who earlier Wednesday blamed “incitement” by Netanyahu for the attacks in Tel Aviv.
“One of them, Yair Lapid, like [former prime minister] Ehud Barak, even encourages a group of anarchists whose purpose is to disturb the peace and undermine the foundations of Israeli society,” he wrote, calling for Israelis to condemn violence or incitement of all types.
מפגינים הותקפו פה
שי מסלנט מפגין שהותקף על ידי אנשי לה פמיליה. ריססו עליו גז פלפל ושברו עליו בקבוק זכוכית. יש פה עוד כמה פצועים pic.twitter.com/f2i1tyHLuK
— Ben Netzer בן נצר (@netzer_ben) July 28, 2020
Lapid lashed Netanyahu for comparing the violence directed at protesters to the protests themselves.
“Netanyahu, we’re no longer scared of you. Yes, I encourage the protesters,” he wrote in a statement. “Yes, Yesh Atid supporters are part of the protests. Yes, we’ll continue to fight against the hate and vitriol that you spread until we remove you from Balfour,” a reference to the Jerusalem street where the prime minister’s official residence is located.
Netanyahu responded to Lapid on Twitter, saying that protesters had threatened to murder him, and writing, “Lapid not only does not condemn the raging incitement, he is also proud that he leads and encourages the anarchist protesters. When it comes to incitement against a right-wing prime minister, the media and public figures ignore it.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz blamed the Tuesday night violence against anti-Netanyahu protesters on “organized criminal gangs,” and said he’ll make sure those behind the violence are punished.
“Yesterday a line was crossed when citizens exercising their right to protest were attacked by organized criminal gangs,” he said in a statement.
“Democracy is tested by such crimes; a government is tested in periods like these,” he said. “I intend to call a cabinet meeting on the violent incidents and to work actively with the Israel Police to ensure they are dealt with… and those who sow baseless hatred and incitement and who harm citizens are punished.”
President Reuven Rivlin warned that Israel had already seen incitement end in political murders.
“I would like to say clearly in light of the violent developments in the last day: The murder of a demonstrator protesting in the State of Israel and the murder of an Israeli prime minister aren’t imaginary scenarios,” Rivlin said in a statement, referring to the 1983 killing by a right-wing activist of left-wing protester Emil Grunzweig at a Tel Aviv protest and the 1995 assassination by an opponent of the Oslo peace process of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“Woe to our democracy if a man’s hand is raised against his brother.”
He complained that condemnations had become “lip service. Every condemnation is attacked with the question, ‘Why didn’t you condemn another event?’ The essence is completely lost.”