Hundreds of protesters gathered on Tuesday evening outside the Tel Aviv home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana after he was recorded pressuring police brass to step up enforcement against demonstrators rallying against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The demonstrators then moved to block the Ayalon Highway, forcing police to redirect traffic.
Outside the Likud minister’s home, protesters stood behind a barricade chanting slogans against Ohana, the government, and police, while blowing vuvuzelas. They shouted, “Police, who do you protect?” “Shame,” “Who will protect us from the police?” and other slogans against the cops.
A neighbor of Ohana’s told The Times of Israel that the protest was larger than others that have been held outside his home in a Tel Aviv high-rise, though smaller than other recent anti-government protests.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, pressing forward with a more than month-long campaign calling on the longtime leader to step down.
Demonstrators chanted the slogan that has become the rallying cry of the protests against Netanyahu while he stands trial on corruption charges: “Capital! Regime! Underworld!”
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.
Protesters have also turned their attention to Ohana after he was reported to have pushed for police to crack down on demonstrations in Jerusalem outside Netanyahu’s official residence.
According to leaked recordings aired Sunday by the Kan public broadcaster, Ohana is seeking to challenge a High Court of Justice ruling that allowed the continued protests in Jerusalem against Netanyahu, and is applying immense pressure on police to handle demonstrators more severely.
In response to the leak, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit sent a letter to acting police commissioner Moti Cohen Tuesday telling him to only make decisions based on professional considerations.
“Decision-making in regards to dealing with protests has been granted to the police under your leadership; only with your professional judgement and without [unrelated] considerations,” the Mandelblit wrote.
Protests have been held repeatedly over the past week near the Prime Minister’s Residence. The protests have drawn thousands of Israelis angry at government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis, and other ills. There have been occasional scenes of violence at recent protests, often from police officers attempting to disperse the demonstrators, videos from the scene have shown.
Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the protesters as “anarchists.”
Ohana has previously been reported to be pushing for the Jerusalem demonstrations to either be banned or relocated away from their usual site outside the official residence.
The recordings broadcast Sunday were from closed meetings attended by Jerusalem Police chief Doron Yadid, other top police officials and Ohana, whose ministry oversees the police.
“We cannot continue with this mess,” Ohana can be heard saying, referring to the protests. “We cannot continue with this anarchy. There is a difference between a protest and the events we have seen over the last few weeks.”
The High Court has approved the ongoing protests near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, angering some local residents who have petitioned the court to ban them, saying they have been disrupting their daily lives.
“I wish to challenge that ruling by the court,” Ohana told the top police officials. “Whoever wants to protest can protest, no problem. But not to make the lives of residents miserable.
“[The protesters] are taking over the sidewalks with sleeping bags and mattresses. I don’t know how to explain to the public why we forbid prayer and culture and art events but we don’t forbid this,” he said, referring to restrictions imposed to stem the coronavirus outbreak.
Yadid can be heard answering Ohana by citing the unusually high number of fines handed out to participants of the protest for failing to wear face masks, fines which police have generally refrained from issuing at protests.
“Yesterday [we handed out] 160 fines for not wearing masks in the protest, which isn’t common,” Yadid can be heard saying. “Usually at protests [we] avoid that.”
However, that didn’t seem to satisfy Ohana.
“District commander, you know I appreciate you, but vandalism isn’t only smashing glass,” Ohana said. “Vandalism is also making residents’ lives miserable, desecrating state symbols, as happened yesterday, blocking the entrances to the Knesset, blocking roads, and of course violence against police officers. It is not something you can accept.”
The Israel Police commented on the report by insisting that despite the words of its district commander, it enforces mask wearing “also in protests, without discrimination and without any connection to the identity of the protesters or the subject of the protest.”
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.