ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 150

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Likud seeks to oust member who said ‘6 million’ anti-overhaul protesters should burn

Itzik Zarka, who is close with senior politicians including Netanyahu, calls demonstrators ‘Ashkenazim, traitors, whores, cancer’; ruling party members condemn, police open probe

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) embraces Likud activist Itzik Zarka during a party faction meeting at the Knesset on July 9, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center) embraces Likud activist Itzik Zarka during a party faction meeting at the Knesset on July 9, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A well-known activist in the Likud party with ties to senior politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told protesters against the judicial overhaul on Saturday that “I wish another six million would be burned,” a remark that led to the premier ordering his removal from the party and to police opening a probe.

The comments come amid deep divides and national turmoil set off by the Netanyahu government’s contentious legislative efforts, which have drawn over six months of sustained anti-government protests.

“Ashkenazim, whores, may you burn in hell,” Itzik Zarka shouted at protesters at the Ein HaNatziv intersection near Beit She’an, referring to Jews of Eastern European origin.

“I am proud of the six million that were burned, I wish that another six million would be burned,” Zarka said, referencing the Holocaust.

“Leftists are traitors, you are the cancer of the country,” he said, according to videos posted on social media.

“The black flags [symbols of the protest] are your shrouds. Your legs should be broken with batons, you should be kneecapped. That way you will not go to any demonstration at all,” said Zarka, who was one of a handful of counter-protesters at the junction.

On Sunday morning, the Likud party put out a statement saying that Netanyahu had ordered director-general Zuri Siso to formally remove Zarka from the party.

“We will not accept such shameful behavior in the Likud movement,” the statement read. A spokesman for the party later confirmed that, in keeping with the Likud charter, the move did not go into immediate effect as it first had to go through the relevant internal procedures.

Zarka’s comments were swiftly disavowed by the Likud party in an earlier statement.

“The Likud movement strongly condemns Itzik Zarka’s words. We will not accept or allow shocking statements of this kind,” the party said. “We call for an end to incitement and violent discourse from all sides. This is the time to unite against our enemy and the many challenges that stand before us.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, like many party members, condemned Zarka’s comments, but he took a swipe at the leaders of the opposition at the same time.

“I condemn in every way the shocking behavior and statements of Itzik Zarka,” Levin said in a statement reported by Hebrew media. “There is no place for such behavior and statements anywhere and in any situation.

“Contrary to the way in which the leaders of the opposition act, supporting violence, [military] refusal to serve, and incitement from the left, I will not add violent and offensive statements to the agenda, even if they come from a right-wing person,” Levin said.

The Israel Police later said an investigation had been opened into Zarka’s remarks.

While the calls to refuse to show up for reserve duty if the overhaul is passed have roiled the military and grown in number, they have been condemned by senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition. Nor have opposition leaders called for violence.

Likud activist Itzik Zarka celebrates the election results with pink champagne in an apparent reference to party leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, in Jerusalem, November 1, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Zarka later apologized for his words, but claimed he had been provoked.

“It came out of frustration, resentment… I should not have said that disgusting statement,” he told the Ynet news site.

Zarka also apologized in a statement on his Facebook page, but claimed that he had been “attacked by 80-100 people with severe violence” before making the comments, which he claimed were “taken out of context.” While there were police on the scene at the time of the protest, there were no reports of injuries or arrests.

“My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and we know what Jews of European countries went through in the Holocaust. I apologize from the depths of my soul,” Zarka’s statement read.

Zarka has a long history of violent statements against those who oppose Netanyahu or his government’s policies while still enjoying close ties to senior politicians including the premier, as well as his family.

In March, he was a member of a group that threatened drivers at the entrances to two kibbutz communities due to a belief that residents oppose Netanyahu and his government’s effort to overhaul the judiciary. The group threw stones at vehicles and spat at and cursed their occupants.

Saturday’s incident came as tens of thousands of people rallied across the country for the 28th weekend of demonstrations against the judicial overhaul, with political tensions ratcheting up as the coalition moves ahead with legislation to weaken the courts’ powers.

Demonstration against the judicial overhaul at Kaplan Street Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, July 15, 2023 (Gilad Furst)

More than 150,000 people attended the main rally on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, according to data from Crowd Solutions cited by Channel 13 news.

Protesters there scrawled “Biden save us” on the road, seeking to bring international pressure to bear on Netanyahu’s hardline coalition amid growing criticism from the US administration over the judicial shakeup.

Anti-government protesters have stepped up their opposition in recent weeks as the coalition advances legislation that would prevent courts from invalidating or even discussing government and ministers’ decisions based on their “reasonableness,” a judicial yardstick.

The government is seeking to pass the bill into law by month’s end, when the Knesset breaks for summer recess.

Saturday’s protesters are a prelude to Tuesday, when demonstrators are planning nationwide rallies and disruptions as they vow to fight the legislation.

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