Large demonstrations set Sunday to mark war's half-year mark

Netanyahu mum as opposition slams ‘horrifying’ ramming of anti-government protesters

Five injured by pro-government driver at TLV rally; suspect claims he accelerated due to malfunction; PM-allied minister accuses left of violence; Lapid blames incitement by coalition

The scene where a driver ran over protesters during a demonstration calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government, Tel Aviv, April 6, 2024. (Courtesy of Itai Raziel)
The scene where a driver ran over protesters during a demonstration calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip and against the current Israeli government, Tel Aviv, April 6, 2024. (Courtesy of Itai Raziel)

Opponents of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday issued harsh condemnations of his failure to immediately address a incident the previous evening in which a car rammed into anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv.

The demonstration, held on the eve of the six-month mark of the war against Hamas, drew tens of thousands, with organizers claiming some 100,000 people were in attendance. Thousands more joined the call for early elections and a deal to secure the release of the hostages held in Gaza in smaller protests in other cities including Jerusalem, Haifa, and Caesarea.

Tel Aviv’s rally saw some demonstrators skirmish with police, with at least five arrests. A car driven by a Netanyahu supporter rammed into demonstrators, injuring five. The driver, said to be a former soccer player, was arrested. Video of the incident that surfaced on social media showed police directing the driver away from the demonstration, before he speeds off, running over several people.

The driver claimed Sunday that the ramming was accidental, and that a malfunction prevented him from braking or slowing down. His lawyer said his client “did everything possible to avoid running over protesters,” and that public figures criticizing the incident before the details are known will “lead to unrest.”

Police were expected to request that the driver’s detention be extended later Sunday on the grounds that the incident posed a risk to human life.

President Isaac Herzog condemned the incident. “The violence must be prosecuted,” wrote the president on X, adding: “We must not return to October 6,” referring to the deep societal rift that preceded Hamas’s October 7 attack but was largely toned down in the public discourse amid the war.

“We must do everything to maintain Israel’s unity. Only together will we defeat our enemies,” said Herzog.

Neither Netanyahu nor his far-right law enforcement minister, Itamar Ben Gvir, immediately commented on the incident.

War cabinet member Benny Gantz, whom polls show to be Netanyahu’s main rival for the premiership, called the ramming incident “horrifying.”

“We all must sound a clear voice condemning any violence,” wrote Gantz on X.

He slammed as “irresponsible” claims that anti-government protesters had the “intention of murdering the prime minister,” an allegation made by Transportation Minister Miri Regev in an interview to Channel 12 hours before the Tel Aviv ramming. On Tuesday a contingent of protesters had made their way toward Netanyahu’s home on Azza Street in Jerusalem, catching law enforcement off-guard, though police later said they did not pose any danger to the prime minister.

“All public leaders should act sensitively toward all segments of society, especially in these difficult days,” wrote Gantz, adding: “We must not return to the days before October 7.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said on X that the ramming incident was a “direct result of the incitement coming from the government and the poison machine,” using a phrase frequently employed to describe the prime minister’s efforts to tar his opponents in the media.

File – opposition Leader Yair Lapid addresses his Yesh Atid party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, April 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We will not be deterred, and they will not cause us to cease from protesting until the hostages are back and this awful government falls,” wrote Lapid.

MK Gideon Sa’ar, who recently quit the government after his right-leaning New Hope party split from Gantz’s centrist National Unity, called the ramming incident “a clear and serious hate crime,” which he implored law enforcement to prosecute.

“This is another sign of the decline of Israeli society while it is being attacked by our enemies from every side,” added Sa’ar, a former senior Likud official.

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, an ally of Netanyahu, said in an X post that “[you do] not run over protesters. Period,” before going on to rail against instances of violence perpetrated by demonstrators.

“This decline, driven by the left’s leaders within and outside the coalition, toward October 6, does not help anyone, and rips us apart amidst a war,” wrote Karhi, adding that “this is in complete contradiction to the spirit of our fighters.”

Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 Hamas terror assault hold placards and wave Israeli flags during a demonstration in front of the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, April 6, 2024. (Jack Guez / AFP)

Saturday’s protest took place on the now-iconic Kaplan Street, site of weekly anti-government protests throughout 2023, when the government was advancing its deeply divisive judicial overhaul program.

The merging of the hostages’ families’ cause with the anti-government protesters has generated controversy among the families themselves, some of whom support Netanyahu.

Weekly protests calling for the hostages’ release have been held in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, outside the city’s art museum, but Saturday’s event there was relatively muted, as organizers from the hostages’ families prepared a massive day of demonstrations on Sunday, marking half a year since their loved ones were snatched to Gaza.

On October 7, thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and take 253 hostages of all ages, while committing numerous atrocities and weaponizing sexual violence.

Most Popular
read more: