Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday accused the leader of the Joint (Arab) List MK, Ayman Odeh, and his associates of being a “fifth column” and said they should be “outlawed” for their support of a Gaza solidarity protest in Haifa.
Opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, were calling for an investigation into the allegations of police violence against the demonstrators over the weekend and defended their right to protest against the military.
Referring to the pro-Gaza demonstrations in the northern city over the weekend, Liberman said the protesters sided with the Hamas terrorist group over the Israel Defense Forces.
“This is a fifth column for all intents and purposes,” said Liberman at his Yisrael Beytenu party’s faction meeting, singling out Odeh and other members of his party.
Liberman lamented the “systematic failure” of law enforcement to take action against Odeh “and his friends” and called for them to be “outlawed.”
Friday’s protest in Haifa had been called to demonstrate against the deaths of dozens of Palestinians during clashes with troops at the Gaza border last week.
Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly “March of Return” protests, which Israel says are orchestrated by the ruling Hamas terror group in Gaza and used as cover for attempted attacks and breaches of the border fence.
The deaths of over 60 Palestinians during last week’s violent protests were met with international outrage and calls for an independent investigation of events. Hamas has subsequently admitted that 50 of the dead were members of the terror group. Three others were Islamic Jihad members.
The defense minister on Sunday had called Odeh and his colleagues “terrorists” who belong in jail.
“The place for these terrorists is not in the Knesset, it’s in prison,” Liberman said. “It’s time they pay a price for their actions.”
Odeh on Saturday confronted police at the hospital where activist Jafar Farah was being treated for a broken knee he sustained after his arrest Friday night at the Haifa demonstration. Odeh called one of the officers stationed outside the Bnai Zion Medical Center a “loser.”
Farah said he sustained the injury when he was assaulted by a cop while already in police custody. Footage of his arrest the day prior shows Farah being led away in handcuffs and walking on his own.
The Justice Ministry said Sunday it would open an investigation into allegations of police brutality during the protest.
On Monday, opposition leader Isaac Herzog defended the protesters’ right to demonstrate against the Israeli military response in Gaza.
“The anger of those who didn’t like the demonstration held in Haifa is legitimate, but it can’t overcome the basic Israeli democratic right to express opinions and freely demonstrate,” he said at the start of the weekly Zionist Union faction meeting.
Herzog, in a post to his Twitter feed Monday, also rejected Odeh’s “rude comment against a policeman,” but said the allegations of police brutality should be duly investigated.
“On the other side of the equation, it is permitted to also ask questions and certainly to demand clarification of the facts when there is a feeling that something not right happened over the weekend in the detention room in Haifa.”
Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni on Monday blasted Liberman for calling Arab lawmakers “terrorists” and accused the defense minister of hate-mongering for political gain.
Liberman, said Livni, “doesn’t have authority to make some Israeli citizens into enemies for that sake of a handful of [parliamentary] seats. Together with the prime minister, you have both done enough political laps on that hatred.”
Livni was referring to Liberman’s history of provocative comments about the Israeli Arab community and, apparently, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments on the day of Israel’s 2015 national elections when he urged his supporters to cast their ballots because the “Arabs are voting in droves [for opposing parties].”
Early on Monday morning, a judge ordered that all 19 suspects arrested during protests in Haifa over the weekend be released, as the city simmered over the brutality allegations.
Haifa Magistrate’s Court Judge Amir Salameh ordered that 12 of the 19 detainees be released immediately, while the other seven, suspected of assaulting a police officer, would be let go later in the day.