Civil society org files police complaint for 'wild incitement'

Hardline Likud MK calls anti-government protesters a ‘branch of Hamas’

Opposition leaders urge PM to remove Nissim Vaturi as deputy Knesset speaker; Gantz calls his rhetoric reprehensible; he later claims comments taken out of context, then apologizes

Likud MK Nissim Vaturi attends a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Nissim Vaturi attends a meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The deputy Knesset speaker on Tuesday charged that anti-government protesters, who have been regularly demanding early elections and the release of hostages held in Gaza, are a “branch” of the Hamas terror group.

“There are a few branches of Hamas — the fighting branch of wicked terrorists who murder children, and the branch of the protests,” Likud MK Nissim Vaturi said in an interview with the ultra-Orthodox Kol Barama radio station, claiming that the mass demonstrations were supporting the Iran-backed terror group.

Vaturi’s comments came in response to a question about violent clashes between police and protesters who marched toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on Monday evening.

At least three people were hospitalized, with protest organizers accusing police of using excessive force, including employing a water cannon against protesters. Nine people were arrested during the protest.

When the interviewer challenged him, saying relatives of hostages held by terror groups in Gaza have the right to take to the streets to express their rage and call on the government to seal a deal, Vaturi responded, “You know, there are some families who make less of a fuss, and not necessarily those on the right. They’re practical and come to us demanding answers.”

He also appeared to insinuate that families who did not join the protests were more likely to see their loved ones return, though he said the connection was “coincidental.”

Protesters lift flags and placards during an anti-government rally calling for early elections in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 17, 2024. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

“I’ll give you a scoop… the hostage families that I met with, and coincidentally it happened, I’m not saying that, you know, but they came home. It’s not always those who shout and scream who will bring their child home,” he said.

When asked directly whether the protests were hindering efforts to secure the release of hostages, the lawmaker responded, “of course,” though when prompted to give specifics he reverted to his previous statement that “the protests are strengthening Hamas.”

The hostages were taken during Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 251 hostages amid acts of brutality and sexual assault. It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, with dozens of them thought dead.

Anti-government protesters demand a deal to release hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, in Tel Aviv, June 15, 2024. (Omer Yelin/Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Following Vaturi’s comments, National Unity chairman Benny Gantz called on Netanyahu to remove the Likud lawmaker from his position as deputy Knesset speaker.

“The deputy speaker of the Knesset proved again this morning that he has no understanding or respect for democracy,” Gantz wrote in a post on X, calling Vaturi’s rhetoric “reprehensible.”

“I call on the prime minister to remove him from his position, and to replace him with a dignified figure who will respect the State of Israel and the legislature,” he insisted, adding that failure to do so would constitute agreement with Vaturi’s comments.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid also called for Vaturi to be removed from his position, writing on X, “The protesters are Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers, they are the Israeli economy, they are teachers and doctors, they are the embodiment of Zionism.”

“Nissim Vaturi, on the other hand, is a man full of hatred whose inflammatory words are being used by Israel’s enemies in a lawsuit in The Hague. Likud should have fired him this morning from the position of deputy speaker of the Knesset,” Lapid added.

There was no official comment from the government on the comments.

Anti-government protesters face off with police outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem, on June 17, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Vaturi attempted to backtrack as furious reactions mounted.

Initially, in a post on X, he falsely claimed that his comments were “taken out of context,” writing that the protests “harm our national resilience” but that “the horrible actions of the Hamas Nazis are not fit to be compared to any protest or political act.”

But speaking at the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee later Tuesday, Vaturi apologized for his remarks, saying that when he heard them on the radio “I was horrified… I meant something else entirely and that’s what came out. I’m sorry for that. I don’t think it’s fitting at all to compare anyone to Hamas or its activities.”

The left-leaning Darkenu civil society organization filed a police complaint following the MK’s earlier comments, according to the Walla news site, citing what the group called “wild incitement that is tearing apart the social fabric.”

“Vaturi should leave the Knesset,” Darkenu was quoted as saying. “We expect an unequivocal condemnation from the prime minister for these statements.”

Such statements about anti-government protesters are nothing new for Vaturi, who insinuated in September 2023 that activists at mass demonstrations against the judicial overhaul effort last year were aligned with Iran.

He was also temporarily banned from Facebook in mid-November after he wrote “burn Gaza now” in a social media post, and was sanctioned by the Knesset’s Ethics Committee the following week for falsely accusing two Arab Israeli MKs of supporting Hamas.

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