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Driver who sped toward anti-PM rally deemed mentally unfit for trial

Security cam footage said to show man, in his twenties, displayed erratic behavior while driving around Jerusalem prior to careening toward demonstrators

Police arrest a man suspected of speeding in his car toward protesters during a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police arrest a man suspected of speeding in his car toward protesters during a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A driver who accelerated his car toward anti-government protesters in Jerusalem last month has been deemed mentally unfit to stand trial.

A court accepted the psychiatric report for the man, in his twenties, who was charged two weeks ago over the September 20 incident outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence. He was acquitted of all charges.

No demonstrators were injured in the incident.

Channel 13 news reported that new footage pieced together from dozens of security cameras around the city pointed to the driver’s erratic behavior earlier that evening.

Israeli police officers search a car after the driver reportedly drove his car at speed towards security barricades set around an anti-government demonstration, in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, on September 20, 2020. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Before arriving outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, the man stopped on a main road in the capital, exited his car and circled it repeatedly, narrowly avoiding being hit by other vehicles. Elsewhere, he changed lanes and made a full U-turn in the middle of the road before running a red light.

Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right activist known for representing Jewish extremists, hailed the court decision.

“Since his arrest, I argued that this is a man who is not responsible for his actions. Today we have a court decision to this effect and I am pleased that common sense prevailed,” he said.

Video posted to social media following the incident showed a white Mini Cooper car coming to a screeching halt meters away from the protest zone as officers called on the driver to stop, some of them with their guns drawn.

The suspect told investigators, “I was on my way to Netanyahu to explain the coronavirus to him,” according to Channel 12 news. He also denied he planned to run over protesters after initially refusing to cooperate with investigators, the report said.

Later speaking before entering the courtroom, the man appeared to offer up a conspiracy theory as an alibi. “I’m suspected of an attempted ramming attack. The car has no brakes. This isn’t my mistake but that of someone of the highest rank,” he was quoted saying by Kan news.

Police officers search the car of a man who sped toward police and demonstrators during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem on September 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The incident occurred as several thousand people gathered for a weekly protest against Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem.

Another suspected car-ramming against anti-Netanyahu protesters took place on October 2 in Tel Aviv. As some 3,000 demonstrators gathered in Habima Square, a car stopped and then accelerated into a group of protesters standing in the middle of a road near the protest site, before speeding away.

The driver, named as 35-year-old Pini Luzon, had been stopped at a nearby lockdown roadblock but was allowed to pass despite visible damage to his car. He was arrested hours later, police said.

Pini Luzon (Channel 12 screenshot)

At a hearing, Luzon asserted he was trying to get away from the demonstrators, not attack them.

“I got stuck in the situation and got scared. I felt surrounded and attacked in my car, so I fled the scene,” he told the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court. “I was in a storm of emotions.”

Luzon claimed the incident was not politically motivated and he had no affinity for the prime minister.

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