Opposition head Yair Lapid said on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “incitement” had led to the attacks on protesters by suspected members of far-right groups at a Tel Aviv protest, and that the premier had “blood on his hands.”
“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,” Lapid said.
Several suspected far-right members attacked protesters late Tuesday as they took part in a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana after he was recorded pressuring police brass to step up enforcement against anti-Netanyahu demonstrators.
The attackers 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.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the violence was an example of divisions in Israeli society, and that the perpetrators must be arrested and face justice.
“Baseless hatred has eroded, and continues to erode, the people of Israel, whose true resilience is in their unity. The attackers of the demonstrators must be caught and punished. No one will silence protests in Israel for as long as we are here,” Gantz tweeted.
Ohana said that the police would deal “harshly” with violence on either side of the political spectrum, in a social media post accompanied by a video of him discussing what he has said are “explicit” threats to the prime minister’s life.
“It does not matter who you are for or against: I call on all of you — right, left, for/against the prime minister, against me or for me — to put out the flames,” Ohana tweeted. “The police will deal harshly with any manifestation of violence.”
Army Radio initially reported that the attackers were members of the La Familia Beitar Jerusalem soccer hooligan club. The group has been associated with far-right and racist elements and was blamed for a similar attack on protesters in Jerusalem last week.
However unnamed officials close to the investigation told Channel 12 news that the suspects in the attacks were not affiliated with the soccer hooligan group.
Interim police chief Motti Cohen told the Kan public broadcaster that law enforcement will act firmly against anyone found to have attacked either civilians or police officers.
“Our job is to allow freedom of protest for every citizen, in accordance with the provisions of the law. On the other hand, public peace and security must remain above all, so we will not allow, and will act resolutely against all manifestations of violence, vandalism or harm to either civilians or police,” Cohen said.
הלילה במהלך צעדת הפגנה בתל אביב הותקפו מפגינים על ידי חבורה של כ 12 בחורים באמצעות אגרופים, אלות, מקלות וגז פלפל. במהלך…
Opposition MK Moshe Ya’alon called on the Shin Bet internal security service and police to take swift action.
“Terrorism is fought without compromise, even with the instigators sitting on the prime minister’s chair. The Shin Bet and the police must wake up before more blood is shed,” Ya’alon said.
At time of publication, there had been no public comment from Netanyahu on the attacks.
מהומה ואלימות כרגע באזור הסינמטק. המפגינים טוענים כי חבורה של מפגינים שתולים נכנסה ללב ההפגנה והחלה להכות ללא הבחנה, מצורף תיעוד חלקי ועוד אחד בציוץ הבא. במקום פוזר גם גז מדמיע ועכשיו כוח של יס״מ הגיע לאבטח אך נראה כי התוקפים האלמונים נעלמו pic.twitter.com/tEzlvabaLd
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) July 28, 2020
Police said they had arrested four people for disturbing the peace and assault at the rally, but gave no further details.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered on Tuesday evening outside Ohana’s home. The demonstrators then moved to block the Ayalon Highway, forcing police to redirect traffic.
מפגינים הותקפו פה
שי מסלנט מפגין שהותקף על ידי אנשי לה פמיליה. ריססו עליו גז פלפל ושברו עליו בקבוק זכוכית. יש פה עוד כמה פצועים pic.twitter.com/f2i1tyHLuK
— Ben Netzer בן נצר (@netzer_ben) July 28, 2020
Protesters 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.
Protests have been held repeatedly over the past weeks 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.”
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.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.