Calls for action against far-right extremists after assaults on TV crew, Arabs

Channel 13 reporter suffers broken rib, cameraman head injury during pro-government rally; Lapid blames Netanyahu, Ben Gvir; Gantz urges PM to unequivocally condemn attacks

Screen capture from video of Channel 13 reporter Yossi Eli surrounded by pro-government supporters in Jerusalem, March 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of Channel 13 reporter Yossi Eli surrounded by pro-government supporters in Jerusalem, March 2023. (Twitter. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Opposition leaders on Tuesday urged the government and Israel Police to clamp down on violence by extremist pro-government supporters after a television news team and several Arab passersby were assaulted during a demonstration in support of the coalition’s planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary.

Channel 13 reporter Yossi Eli was hospitalized with a broken rib and suspected damage to his spleen late Monday.

Cameraman Avi Cashman suffered a head injury.

Eli tweeted Tuesday his thanks to the police for saving him from “a group of rioters and La Familia members who blocked the road in Jerusalem, spat on us, threw objects and beat our photographer Cashman on his head with a stick.”

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.

There were other reports of far-right activists attacking anti-government demonstrators as well as passing Arabs and police officers.

In one incident, police said an Arab taxi driver was surrounded by protesters who hurled objects at his vehicle and banged on his window.

The driver tried to flee via a nearby gas station, but was then “savagely attacked by the rioters who chased him and caused heavy damage to his car,” police said in a statement.

Police said an investigation into the incident had been opened and three arrests had been made.

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)

MK Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition and the Yesh Atid party, in a statement, blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for the incidents.

Lapid tweeted that far-right coalition supporters were guilty of “rampant, ugly, and dangerous violence.”

“This is what violence looks like, Mr. Netanyahu, and these are the results of your incitement and that of the Tiktok clown [Ben Gvir] who wants to turn his militia of thugs into a ‘national guard’ that will bring terror and violence everywhere in the country,” Lapid wrote, referring to Ben Gvir’s demand for a new security force that will be under his control and that critics pan as amounting to a private militia.

Netanyahu has for weeks accused the largely peaceful anti-government protesters of violence and plotting political assassinations.

Opposition MK Benny Gantz, who leads the National Unity party, tweeted that he has been receiving “difficult testimonies from protesters who were attacked by supporters of the legislation.”

He urged Netanyahu “to call unequivocally to refrain from any violence,” adding, “Everyone has the right and duty to make their voice heard — and it is absolutely forbidden to raise a hand against another person, harass him or harm him. Stop now!”

Though there was no immediate comment from Netanyahu, one cabinet member did speak up. Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi tweeted that “the police must prosecute anyone who attacks journalists. Don’t attack a journalist team, don’t use violence at all. This is a red line that no one must cross, ever!”

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

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.

Channel 13 said that in light of the incident, it will now provide its news teams with two bodyguards when they cover demonstrations surrounding the controversial legislation.

In a statement, the network said that it condemns the assault on its news team and expects police to bring the preparators to justice.

The Union of Journalists in Israel also urged the police to find those responsible. “The attack on Eli follows a number of similar incidents of assault on journalists and medic teams in recent days,” the union said in a statement.

Eli was also allegedly attacked at a demonstration on Sunday, that time by police. Channel 13 cameraman Shai Toni was also said to have been handled roughly and his camera broken.

The attacks came as mass protests for and against the government’s judicial overhaul across major cities led to clashes with police who sought to clear roads and restore order overnight, as the country still boiled after Netanyahu announced that his government would temporarily halt the legislative push that sparked the demonstrations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the nation, March 27, 2023. (GPO Screenshot)

The largest evening demonstrations took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with the former being the gathering site for tens of thousands of pro-overhaul demonstrators and the latter hosting a similar number of protesters opposed to the government’s effort to radically curb the High Court of Justice’s power. Fifty-three arrests were made of demonstrators for blocking roads and creating public disturbances throughout the day across the country, though mostly in Tel Aviv.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu promised to establish a “national guard” that would fall under the direct authority of Ben Gvir in exchange for the far-right minister backing his decision to pause the judicial overhaul legislation. Ben Gvir already heads the police force and Border Police.

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.

Netanyahu on Monday night announced he was temporarily halting the legislation to allow for talks.

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