A lawyer for a man arrested after he accelerated his car toward anti-government protesters in Jerusalem Sunday night denied that he intended to ram into the demonstration and indicated he may be mentally unstable.
Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right activist known for representing Jewish extremists, requested during a remand hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court that his client undergo a psychiatric evaluation, citing his mental state.
“According to the videos you can clearly see this isn’t an attempted attack,” Ben Gvir said. “Anyone who wants to run over [people] doesn’t stop with screeching brakes.”
Video posted to social media on Sunday 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.
צילומים בלעדיים ל"שיחה מקומית" של החשוד בניסיון הדריסה בהפגנה בירושלים מבצע את המעשה ונעצר. מהמשטרה במחוז ירושלים נמסר כי החשוד הועבר לחקירה.
צילום: אורן זיו pic.twitter.com/7ucKLlAmdX
— שיחה מקומית (@mekomit) September 20, 2020
He also claimed the suspect, a resident of the capital, was headed toward the Western Wall, an area also closed to traffic due both to coronavirus restrictions and normal limits on traffic in the densely urbanized Old City.
However, the suspect told investigators, “I was on my way to Netanyahu to explain to him about the coronavirus,” according to Channel 12 news.
He also denied he planned to run over protesters after initially refusing to cooperate with investigators, the report said.
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 the Kan public broadcaster.
The court ordered the suspect be held in custody for another three days.
Police have still not specified whether the incident was a near-accident or an intended attack nor provided any information on the suspect’s identity or possible motive. A statement Saturday following the incident said officers “arrested a suspect who drove toward the police barricades and was a danger to protesters and police.”
The incident occurred as several thousand people gathered for a weekly protest against Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, in the first such demonstration since the start of a renewed nationwide lockdown Friday to combat the coronavirus pandemic and after fresh restrictions were announced on those taking part.
In the US, a number of anti-government protests have been marred by deadly attacks by far-right assailants using their cars as battering rams.
In Israel, previous anti-Netanyahu protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv over the summer saw some demonstrators attacked by alleged far-right thugs.
Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. His criminal trial began in June, but he has refused to step down from office and denies any wrongdoing. Many demonstrators also protested against his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Netanyahu and his supporters have frequently denounced the protests and claimed they are a major vector of infections, though health officials have said no cases have been traced back to the rallies so far.