Public Security Minister Amir Ohana on Wednesday castigated the previous day’s mass-protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the participants anarchists and claiming that the level of incitement currently being directed at the premier and his family dwarfs what was seen in the lead-up to former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination.
“What we saw yesterday was anarchy [led by] agents of chaos seeking to sow panic and despair in the public,” Ohana said during a press conference at the Public Security Ministry.
Several thousand people gathered Tuesday evening in Jerusalem, calling on Netanyahu to quit over his indictment on corruption charges. Some of the demonstrators attempted to break through security barriers at the scene and clashed with police. As the protest ended, hundreds moved downtown, where they blocked the light rail system, leading to mass arrests.
Two individuals were released outright, three more were released on condition they stay away from the premier’s residence for two weeks, and a further three were placed under house arrest until Sunday. Most of the 50 people that police said they had arrested were freed overnight after the protest.
Some of the protesters were also filmed harassing journalists who came to cover the demonstration. One was filmed calling Channel 13 reporter Avishai Ben Haim a “Moroccan dog,” leading to condemnation by Netanyahu himself.
The Jerusalem demonstration was part of the ongoing “black flag” anti-corruption protests against Netanyahu.
Numerous such protests have been held in recent weeks and months, but Tuesday night’s was unprecedentedly large, with an unusually high participation of young people.
Tamir Hefetz, one of the organizers, stressed in a Wednesday Channel 12 interview that the organizers are firmly opposed to violence and confrontation.
Protesting what he said was the media’s obsession in the wake of the demonstration with “whether there was violence… whether an anarchist threw a chair,” he said the real issue was that “there is an entire generation of young people who are growing up to a dictatorial state, with no future, whose prime minister spends his days only seeking to evade justice… who passes anti-democratic laws, who harms the judicial system. These [young] people are crying out. I cry out with them… The protest is a protest to preserve democracy.”
Hefetz also said those responsible for initiating the violence were largely “provocateurs” who infiltrated the demonstration.
In his comments Wednesday, Ohana also called out Yesh Atid MK Idan Roll, who tweeted Tuesday that the government “doesn’t have the legitimacy” to impose a renewed lockdown to stem the coronavirus outbreak, and that if it does order one, Israelis need not to obey.
“When an MK calls the government, which was elected by a majority of the public, ‘illegitimate,’ he is calling for a revolt,” Ohana said.
Roll has apologized, saying, “My intention was and still is that the loss of public trust in the government is a real danger to democracy and its handling of the coronavirus crisis. Of course I call on the general public to obey the instructions.”
Ohana went on to claim that incitement against Netanyahu “is overflowing” and that “the incitement that preceded Rabin’s assassination pales in comparison.”
“There is incitement against the prime minister. They compare him to Louis XVI, who was executed by beheading,” Ohana said.
Responding to the remark, the Yitzhak Rabin Center said in a statement that “it’s encouraging to see that after 25 years, a senior Likud minister has admitted that there was indeed incitement that led to the assassination of late prime minister Rabin.
“The Rabin Center condemns all violence and is convinced that today the prime minister is better protected [than Rabin was],” the statement added.
Ohana, whose office oversees the police, also declared that he would reveal the identity of the next police chief within the next 30 days.
“There are some things that need to be fixed in the police, which sometimes exercises patience where force should be used and sometimes uses force where patience should be exercised,” he said.
“We’ve just started [the process of picking a new police chief], and there’s a long way to go… Such changes do not happen within two months. The one who will help me with the necessary corrections will be the next permanent police chief,” he continued.
“I will announce my choice within 30 days from today.”
Ohana’s 30-day commitment appeared slightly optimistic, given that the appointment process has dragged out in recent years and this time will also require the approval of both Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.