‘I’m a Kahanist’: Police volunteer shouts at elderly protester on Memorial Day

Incident occurs when supporters of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and their opponents clash at Ashdod military cemetery

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

A security volunteer yells at a protester outside the Ashdod military cemetery on May 13, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)
A security volunteer yells at a protester outside the Ashdod military cemetery on May 13, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

A volunteer providing security on behalf of police at a Memorial Day ceremony in Ashdod on Monday was filmed screaming at an elderly protester who objected to the presence of far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the event.

The armed volunteer, who was dressed in green fatigues and wore a police cap, confronted the protester, who complained that the controversial cabinet member was a follower of the late ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane.

“I’m a Kahanist,” the policeman yelled at the protester, slapping himself on the chest.

A video of the incident filmed by The Times of Israel has been viewed more than 150,000 times, generating harsh criticism of the police.

“This filth will certainly be promoted, certainly not suspended,” tweeted far-left Hadash-Ta’al MK Ofer Cassif. “And then they will say that the police are not a Nazi militia. The Israeli SS is already under construction.”

There was concern on the other side of the political spectrum too, with Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova — whose party recently attempted to impeach Cassif — telling The Times of Israel: “It is especially sad and worrying when someone dressed in a policeman’s uniform with a cap identifying him as a policeman prides himself on belonging to a racist and messianic ideology.”

Ben Gvir is a follower of the late rabbi Meir Kahane, the founder of the now- banned Kach party, which advocated for the expulsion of Palestinians and Arab-Israelis.

He was previously convicted for incitement to violence and for supporting a terror group, having distributed stickers that read, “Expel the Arab enemy” and “Kahane was right.” He was not accepted for compulsory service in the IDF because of far-right activism in his youth.

Until several years ago, the minister — who now oversees the Israel Police — hung a photograph of Jewish mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, perpetrator of a 1994 massacre of 29 Muslim worshipers at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, on the wall of his home.

Formerly a far-right lawyer and agitator, Ben Gvir managed to enter the Knesset for the first time in 2021 with the help of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, who engineered a merger of far-right parties to prevent the loss of right-wing votes on slates that would fail to pass the electoral threshold in that year’s election.

A spokesman for Ben Gvir did not respond to a request for comment.

Contacted by The Times of Israel, the Israel Police said:

“During [today’s] Memorial Day events, the police acted with great sensitivity in the face of every attempt at provocation and deliberate disturbances, in light of the great importance of the events to the bereaved families and to the citizens of Israel in general.

“The incident is not shown in its entirety and the video shows [only] a part of it, in that the citizen tried several times to provoke police, including the volunteer member of the security squad… On a day charged with emotions, everyone is expected to behave with tolerance. This case will be examined and lessons will be drawn accordingly.”

During Ben Gvir’s speech at Monday morning’s memorial at the Ashdod military cemetery, clashes broke out between opponents and supporters of the minister, with protesters calling the far-right politician a “criminal” and “draft dodger” and demanding he leave the annual ceremony.

In response, supporters of Ben Gvir heckled the protesters as “leftists” and “garbage,” sparking multiple fistfights in the military section of the Ashdod cemetery.

Screams shattered the solemn atmosphere of the day as attendees fought, shoving and punching each other while soldiers and police struggled to separate them.

As the minister, surrounded by a phalanx of security officers, made his way out of the cemetery following the ceremony, the arguments continued outside, with pro- and anti-Ben Gvir protesters screaming at each other in the parking lot.

“Leftists aren’t Jews,” one man yelled. “There is no room for leftists after the [October 7] massacre. Shame!”

“Only Bibi!” another called out, using Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during an official Memorial Day ceremony at the Ashdod Military Cemetery on May 13, 2024. (Liron Moldovan/Flash90)

It was the second year in a row that Ben Gvir’s appearance at a Memorial Day event has sparked unrest.

Last year, shouting erupted as the minister began to speak at the Beersheba military cemetery. He was applauded and hailed by some and castigated by others when he finished, and scuffles broke out outside the cemetery, with one mourner saying she and a group of the bereaved were set upon by a mob of pro-Ben Gvir extremists.

Leading up to Memorial Day this year, some politicians and family members of victims of the October 7 Hamas massacre asked government ministers and lawmakers to refrain from speaking at the various ceremonies on May 12-13, citing concerns that the day would be tainted by the presence of politicians whom many blame for the failures leading up to the unprecedented terror assault.

The requests went unanswered.

Jeremy Sharon and Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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