Military reservists opposed to the coalition’s controversial judicial overhaul plan placed banners reading “father of the dictator” at a monument marking Benzion Netanyahu Interchange, which memorializes the prime minister’s late father, in a mock ceremony Wednesday.
The activists, alumni of Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division, said they held an event in the morning at the site, located at the northern entrance to Jerusalem.
“Father of a failed and corrupt tyrant who has become a pariah in Israel and around the world,” the banner read.
The elder Netanyahu, who died in 2012, was a historian considered one of the world’s foremost experts on Jewish life in Spain in the Middle Ages and an editor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica. The interchange was named for him in 2013.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that the protesters had “desecrated” the site, and said he had submitted a complaint to the police.
“It’s time for them to stop trampling all the norms of decency and common sense,” he wrote.
MK Benny Gantz, chair of the opposition National Unity party, also condemned the vandalism.
“Even in the midst of a justified protest like no other, it is important to preserve respect for the dead and the legacy of people that contributed in their way to the State of Israel,” he tweeted.
But protesters stood by the move as a legitimate means of protest.
“Netanyahu needs to understand that as long as he continues the overhaul, there will be non-violent resistance in every possible form,” Cpt. (res.) Raysh, one of the leaders of the protest, told Channel 12 news.
Raysh, who can only be identified by the Hebrew initial due to the nature of his service, said that the group had a lot of praise for the late Netanyahu, but stressed they felt no need to apologize for their actions.
“We aren’t nice, this protest is not nice. We didn’t desecrate anything, everything was with simple signs,” he said.
“We are not politicians, we are speaking to a person that sits [in the Prime Minister’s Residence] who by the way comes from our system,” the protester said, referencing the premier’s service in the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit. “We know him very well. We say to him: ‘If you don’t wake up and put this thing away, this is how you will be remembered. This is how history will remember you.'”
In a statement, the Special Operations Division alumni protest group accused Netanyahu and his allies of inciting against them and the judiciary. They said that in response to the prime minister’s police complaint, they too would file a claim with the police accusing Netanyahu of attempting to illegally and violently crush the rule of law in Israel.
“Netanyahu’s allies also called us Nazis, terrorists, told us to go to hell, and that we are wimps,” the group said. “We put simple signs with zip ties that can be removed in two seconds. Apparently, simple zip ties bother Mr. Netanyahu.”
Hundreds of reservists in the Special Operations Division, as well as other high-profile units, have threatened to cease their volunteer duties if the coalition passes the judicial overhaul bills.
After rushing a range of overhaul bills through the Knesset to the brink of full passage, Netanyahu announced in late March a pause in order to allow for compromise talks aimed at reaching a broad agreement. Talks are ongoing but have yet to yield results.
Proponents of the overhaul say the bills are needed to balance the system’s activist, liberal slant, while critics warn the move will politicize courts and cause grievous harm to democracy.