Police detained some 16 suspected far-right activists after a rally by an extremist Jerusalem gang saw journalists and others attacked late Thursday, though police managed to prevent the group from approaching and possibly assaulting anti-government protesters.
The rally by Beitar Jerusalem soccer fan club La Familia at Jerusalem’s First Station entertainment complex was planned as a counter-demonstration to a nearby anti-government protest outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It came amid an alarming uptick of attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters by suspected far-right assailants, including a bloody assault in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
The far-right counter-protesters chanted “Death to leftists,” hurled rocks and assaulted journalists, breaking a camera.
Police said 16 people were detained for “disturbing public order, attacking demonstrators and attacking a police officer.” An official statement did not list how many of the 16 were from the far-right rally, but media reports indicated all or almost all were detained from their ranks.
Authorities said before the rally that a main concern was keeping La Familia away from the other protesters, especially after a number of reports of attacks by La Familiar members in Jerusalem over the past week.
Among those attacked at the First Station was a Channel 13 news crew. Video of one incident showed a photographer being knocked to the ground.
שימי לב לתמונות האלה: קובי כהן, צלם חדשות 13 שהגיע לצלם את ההפגנה של לה פמיליה בירושלים הותקף, נפל על הרצפה ונחבל.
— almog boker (@bokeralmog) July 30, 2020
Israeli far-right extremists assaulted reporters, photographers, Palestinian bus driver as a thousand anti-Netanyahu protesters gather outside PM's residence https://t.co/TihGUQEmBtpic.twitter.com/8GV2rPfWzI
— avi scharf (@avischarf) July 30, 2020
According to the channel, the photographer and two others were attacked and suffered injuries after they refused to stop filming.
La Familia members also allegedly threw stones at a car with Palestinian passengers and blocked roads around Jerusalem’s First Station before police ordered them to disperse.
Several La Familia members were stopped while trying to reach the main Jerusalem protest, according to Haaretz. Some 2,000 people had gathered next to Paris Square in the capital to call for Netanyahu’s resignation and push a number of other agenda items.
“This is the Jewish state, I hate all the Arabs,” the La Familia members sang as they triumphantly re-entered the First Station after being thwarted.
Others marched up toward Hebron St, where Yassam riot police declared their rally illegal and began dispersing them by force.
La Familia protest organizer Amnon Ben-Ami flatly denied that there had been any violence by his group’s members, telling The Times of Israel that the only violent demonstrators in the past two month had been “the left.”
“I didn’t see any stones thrown, and if there were, I’m pained by that,” said Ben-Ami, who said that more protests were being planned in the coming days.
Attention has focused on La Familia after the extremist group was linked to reports of anti-Netanyahu protesters being attacked a week ago.
On Saturday night, police arrested far-right activists, reportedly members of the group, who allegedly attacked protesters. Protesters also reported being attacked by far-right hooligans at smaller demonstrations in the south of the country and near Tel Aviv.
On Tuesday, a rally outside Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s home in Tel Aviv turned violent when suspected far-right assailants were seen hitting demonstrators with glass bottles, clubs and chairs and spraying them with mace. Organizers of the protest said five people were hospitalized, including two with stab wounds to their backs. Later reports said 10 people were hospitalized.
Five suspects were released to house arrest on Thursday, with a judge said to accept the defense’s argument that the altercation had been a brawl between the two sides, “who had provoked each other,”
The Tuesday violence drew widespread condemnation, including from opposition figures who blamed Netanyahu for inciting it.
“The violence and blood spilled yesterday in Tel Aviv is on the hands of Netanyahu and his messengers. One who sows incitement will receive blood in return. Calling protesters spreaders of disease and inciting against civilians who protest is leading Israel into a civil war,” opposition head Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) said Wednesday.
Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the anti-government protesters as “anarchists.”
Netanyahu is on trial for a series of cases in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office, and has refused to leave office.
Police had deployed extra forces to Jerusalem for the rally, fearing renewed violence as La Familia issued a call for supporters to gather at the First Station.
“Watch out, leftist rags, the rules of the game have now changed,” it warned. “We’re not prepared to remain indifferent and sit quietly.”
Among the measures to prevent violence, police were planning to place more undercover officers amid the protesters, use more technology to monitor certain activists and mobilize more officers to prevent violence against the protesters.
Acting police chief Motti Cohen said Thursday morning that security forces would allow the protests, but would counter “violence in any form, against protesters, civilians and police,” adding: “We will take determined action to the full extent of the law against those who disrupt public order.”
Protesters have for weeks been holding regular rallies outside the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. They have been joined in recent weeks by people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds in the thousands and rising.