Far-right groups were filmed attacking Arab passersby during pro-government demonstrations in Jerusalem and in one case “savagely” beating a man, police said early Tuesday, adding that three people had been arrested for the assault.
The attacks came as mass protests for and against the government’s judicial overhaul across major cities descended into clashes with police who sought to clear roads and restore order overnight, as the country still boiled after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government would temporarily halt the legislative push that sparked the demonstrations.
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.
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 several Arab passers-by.
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, which said it had opened an investigation into the incident and made three arrests.
Another video from Jerusalem showed right-wing protesters, waving Israeli and Likud flags, blocking an Arab driver’s path and chanting, “may your village burn.”
In another filmed incident, an Arab teen caught up in the right-wing protest can be seen being pulled away to safety by civilians and officers.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 27, 2023
One man is heard telling protesters, “Leave him alone, what’s wrong with you?”
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 to outlaw it as a terrorist organization.
The right-wing protesters temporarily blocked the Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Ben Zvi roads near the entrance of Jerusalem, and footage from the Kan public broadcaster shows them setting a fire on the road and adding items to expand the flames. Chants of “Death to Arabs” can be heard in the background.
Channel 13 said the pro-overhaul demonstrators beat its team of reporters.
Police used riot dispersal measures to dispel right-wing protesters who refused to clear roads in Jerusalem, which was also where roughly 100,000 anti-overhaul demonstrators gathered earlier in the day outside the Knesset before Netanyahu’s announcement suspending the coalition’s legislative effort.
Labor party lawmaker Gilad Kariv decried the demonstrators’ “attempted lynchings” in a statement posted to Twitter, referring to the harassment and assault of Arabs.
“This is an organized infrastructure and not spontaneous gatherings. The police and Shin Bet don’t have a proper response, in intelligence or operations, to this violent infrastructure. It’s time for them to wake up,” Kariv wrote.
בצומת סמוך קבוצת צעירים שהפגינו בעד הרפורמה חסמו רכב ובו נהג ערבי, תוך שהם קוראים לעברו קריאות גנאי ושרים. מפגינים אחרים, גם הם תומכי הרפורמה, רצו לעזור לנהג והזעיקו את השוטרים, שפינו את הכביש ואפשרו לו לעבור@GLZRadio https://t.co/dedkjodK8x pic.twitter.com/R365WLtaM1
— נועה ברנס Noa Baranes (@noabaranes10) March 27, 2023
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli characterized the far-right demonstrators as National Security Minister Itamar “Ben Gvir’s militias.”
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.
Meanwhile, Ben Gvir applauded protesters who came out in support of the judicial overhaul on Monday.
“Today the right stopped sitting quietly on the sidelines,” Ben Gvir wrote on Twitter.
“The right is usually indifferent to protests and active at the voting booth. But when they want to cancel our vote, when they try to steal the election results from us, when they tell us we are second-class voters — this is the result,” he said.
In Tel Aviv, police used stun grenades to stop anti-government protesters from breaching barriers to reach the Ayalon Highway.
A significant amount of debris, including metal barriers and signs, was left scattered on the central highway. Officers also deployed a pair of water cannons.
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) March 27, 2023
Police said they arrested 38 demonstrators throughout the day in the coastal city, largely for blocking roads and causing public disturbances. Most of them were released by the end of the night.
Dozens of officers on horses also dispersed demonstrators. In one incident though, an officer lost control of his horse, which fell on top of a protester. Both the injured protester and another demonstrator struck by a stun grenade were evacuated to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.
Some in Tel Aviv accused the police of using excessive force in dispersing the demonstrators, claiming much of the commotion only began once police moved in on the protesters.
Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai told Channel 12 that officers would safeguard Israelis’ right to protest but would not allow for disturbances to public order and would act accordingly.
Police worked to separate participants from opposing demonstrations, but in several incidents in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, scuffles broke out.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 27, 2023
As pro-judicial shakeup protesters arrived at Jerusalem’s Sacher Park late on Monday afternoon, anti-overhaul protesters also marched by, with some sitting there to claim space.
Some young right-wing men yelled at the anti-overhaul protesters: “You’re whores, what kind of equality of rights are you talking about, leftist whores!… We’ll fuck you up,”
The pro-overhaul rally came as demonstrations against the legislation took place nationwide, a day after spontaneous mass protests broke out on Sunday night after Netanyahu announced he would fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for publicly calling to freeze the judicial overhaul.
Netanyahu made no mention of Gallant’s ousting when he announced the delay of the legislation and it was not clear whether he intended to reverse the move.
The premier’s declaration of a pause in the legislative blitz was welcomed by opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Unity chief Benny Gantz.
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.