Demanding action, relatives of hostages smear yellow paint on Knesset gallery windows

Protesters removed from visitors’ area after sparking tumult in plenum to mark 180 days of loved ones’ captivity, with several opposition lawmakers raising hands in solidarity

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Protesters smear yellow paint on the windows of the Knesset plenum visitors gallery, April 3, 2024. (Knesset Channel / AFP)

Chaos erupted in the Knesset visitors’ gallery Wednesday as activists and relatives of hostages in Gaza splattered yellow paint on viewing windows above the plenum to protest a lack of government action to free their loved ones after 180 days of captivity.

Security personnel immediately confronted the protesters, pushed them away from the windows and escorted them out of the gallery. In the Knesset plenum below, where legislators were voting on a climate-related bill, a number of opposition lawmakers raised their hands in solidarity with the protesters.

Some of the approximately 20 protesters threw paint at the balcony’s floor-to-ceiling windows, while others raised hands covered in paint and smeared them on the glass.

The protesters used bright yellow paint, a color that has been adopted to symbolize the plight of the captives, usually in the form of yellow ribbons.

Addressing the plenum following the incident, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid expressed sympathy for the families while attempting to lower the temperature.

“Our hearts are with you, the families of the protesters. We will fight with you,” he said, while stressing the obligation of “protesters to follow the law, and of police to maintain the safety of the demonstrators.”

Families of Israelis held hostage by Hamas in Gaza protest at the gallery overlooking the Knesset plenum in Jerusalem on April 3, 2024 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The demonstration inside the Knesset came less than a day after a rally demanding early elections and a hostage deal in Jerusalem descended into chaos on Tuesday evening, as marchers attempting to bypass police barricades split into multiple directions in order to reach Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s home.

“There is no other country in the world where this government would be in power on October 8,” following the shock Hamas assault on southern Israel on October 7, Lapid said. “It’s a disaster for the ages that you stayed in power.”

Families of hostages say the government has abandoned those kidnapped on October 7, as indirect talks with Hamas aimed at pausing the fighting and getting hostages out have failed to bear fruit since a November deal during which some 100 civilians were released from captivity. Israel says 134 people are being held by Gazan terror groups, 130 of them taken on October 7. Around 30 of those captive since October 7 are thought to be dead.

The Knesset’s decision to go on a recess for six weeks starting April 7 has also raised hackles among families of captives, who say the crisis should trump lawmakers’ vacations.

Saying that he understood the families’ pain, Likud MK Nissim Vaturi accused some activists and opposition lawmakers of “hitching a ride” on their suffering.

MK Nissim Vaturi speaks in the Knesset on April 3, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Don’t engage in activities that prevent the return of the hostages,” he yelled.

Protests against the government have stepped up in recent days as relatives of hostages who accuse Netanyahu’s government of failing to do enough have joined forces with activists pushing for the government to step down and early elections to be held. Hundreds have camped outside the Knesset since Saturday night, holding nightly rallies and moving the focus of their activity from Tel Aviv.

A protest march from the Knesset Tuesday night began as a unified mass of people led by relatives of the hostages and veteran activists who rose to prominence last year amid Israel’s since-paused judicial overhaul. It fragmented when its thousands of marchers flooded the narrow streets of Jerusalem’s wealthy Rehavia neighborhood where Netanyahu lives with his family.

Police arrested five demonstrators throughout the night and opened an investigation into the throwing of a burning torch at a mounted officer. Another police officer was admitted to the hospital for an injury sustained when a protester threw a railing at him.

Police in Jerusalem try to push back people in a protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and for the release of the hostages on April 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The violence drew criticism from across the political spectrum, including from Minister Chili Tropper (National Unity), who posted on Facebook that  “those who want to provide an alternative to the state’s leadership cannot be a mirror image of it.”

“Being an alternative means offering something different to Israeli society,” he wrote in what appeared to also be a swipe at some of his coalition partners. “It will be very sad if the alternative is no more than a faded imitation or mirror image of the poison proposal being offered by parts of the opposing political side.”

Responding to Tropper in the plenum following the paint incident on Wednesday, Labor leader Merav Michaeli said, “Tropper and his party are sitting with Ben Gvir and Smotrich — for whom the description extremists is inadequate.”

“So yes, I am very much against violence. And I see these families, who know that Netanyahu is delaying the possibility of rescuing our hostages from hell, and I don’t understand how they lasted six months without going berserk and losing their minds much earlier. So instead of tutting, go to your war cabinet and make Netanyahu bring our hostages home.”

Controversial climate bill pushed through

The commotion occurred as lawmakers advanced a bill committing the government to honor emission cuts agreed to in 2021, reducing carbon output by at least 85% by 2050.

The bill, which must pass two more Knesset votes, orders the preparation of national plans for emissions reduction and for dealing with the effects of climate change. Ministries will also be expected to create climate crisis preparation plans on different aspects of the economy.

However, the language of the legislation allows the government to change both the goals and the baseline used to calculate emissions cuts. It will also let the government exempt ministries and corporations from the obligation to prepare plans for dealing with climate change.

Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman said the proposed law will “protect the public, its health and welfare, and also protect future generations.”

But environmental groups and opposition MKs decry the bill as next to useless and capitulation to the Finance Ministry, which has fought against anchoring any climate targets in law.

Charlie Summers, Sue Surkes and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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