Opposition decries ‘political arrests’ as several central protest leaders detained

Shikma Bressler, Kalanit Sharon, Rotem Perelman-Farhi arrested during nationwide rallies; cops say at least two of the arrests were due to ‘disturbance of public order’

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Protest leader Shikma Bressler is arrested by police during protests on Route 4, March 23, 2023. (Screenshot)
Protest leader Shikma Bressler is arrested by police during protests on Route 4, March 23, 2023. (Screenshot)

Several leaders and prominent members of the protest movement against the government’s judicial overhaul were arrested during the course of the nationwide demonstrations on Thursday, including Shikma Bressler, Kalanit Sharon, Rotem Perelman-Farhi and Moshe Radman.

The arrests led several opposition figures and politicians to accuse police of conducting “political arrests,” although the force insisted in at least two cases that the arrests were made due to “disturbances of public order.”

Bressler was arrested at a protest at Binyamina Junction, outside the Rafael arms producing firm near Or Akiva, Sharon was arrested in Tel Aviv, and Perelman-Farhi in Haifa.

The arrests came during a “day of paralysis ” across the country Thursday against the government’s radical legal reform package, in rallies that have involved acts of civil disobedience including the blocking of major highways.

Bressler, a physicist and researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science, is a founder and leader of the Black Flags movement, formed against the previous government of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2020. She was later released.

She has been a prominent voice in the latest anti-government protests, often acting as the emcee at massive demonstrations at Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv.

She and others, including workers from the Rafael defense technology company, succeeded in blocking the Route 4 highway for approximately an hour.

According to the police thousands of people participated in the demonstration, which they said posed a danger to drivers and the protesters themselves. Cops declared the protest to be illegal.

Crowd dispersal tactics were used by the police to clear the road, and 12 protesters were arrested including Bressler on charges of disturbing the peace and interfering with a police officer performing his duty.

Bressler was taken to Zevulun Police Station in Haifa but released a short while later on condition that she leave the area of the protest.

Video footage of Bressler’s arrest showed her being led away by police to a patrol car amid calls of “Shame!” by protesters.

Speaking to a crowd of supporters outside the police station, Bressler said she did not blame the police due to the difficult situation they had been put in.

“I really want to say thank you to the police, as strange as that sounds. It’s clear to us all that a democratic country needs a strong police force, and we have no other police force. They have been put in an impossible situation and our task is to ensure that Israel remains a democracy,” said Bressler.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak tweeted that her arrest was an example of “dictatorship in action.”

Labor leader MK Merav Michaeli tweeted, “In a normal country Shikma Bressler would be given the Israel Prize. In the state of Netanyahu and [Itamar] Ben Gvir she is arrested as a common criminal. [This is] Hungary and Poland on steroids. A disgraceful government. Democracy will prevail over you.”

The Weizmann Institute also said it “fiercely condemns the shameful arrest of Dr. Shikma Bressler,” and that “the arrest of such a central figure in the [anti-government] protests during a nonviolent protest raises suspicions of non-pertinent considerations in her arrest.”

Perelman-Farhi, a partner in the Epstein Rosenblum Maoz law firm and a protest leader from Haifa who has featured in the weekly Tel Aviv protests, was arrested in Haifa during protests in which thousands of people participated, according to the police.

Video footage of her arrest showed her being carried away by police officers.

Police said she was arrested for disturbing public order, and she had yet to be released as of the time of writing.

Kalanit Sharon, a leader in the Pink Front protest movement, was arrested in Tel Aviv.

Labor MK Naama Lazimi denounced Sharon’s arrest on Twitter.

“They are trying to silence us. We won’t let them! We won’t have a dictatorship here,” declared Lazimi.

And Radman, a prominent hi-tech entrepreneur who has also been at the forefront of demonstrations agains the coalition’s legislation, was arrested while protesting on the Ayalon highway which runs through Tel Aviv and which was blocked by protestors for several hours during the course of Thursday’s demonstration.

Video footage of the moment Radman was arrested seemingly showed him standing still at the front of a block of protestors on the highway, before he was roughly dragged out of the group away by police officers and taken away.

In circumstances which are not yet clear, Radman was injured at some stage during or after being arrested and was sent to Ichilov hospital with a concussion.

In a video from the hospital lying on a hospital bead and wearing a neck brace, Radman called for protestors to keep demonstrating.

Protest leader and hi-tech entrepreneur Moshe Radman speaking from his hospital bed in Ichilov hospital, after being injured during or after his arrest in demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul agenda, March 23, 2023. (Screenshot)

“The more you [the government] try to stop us the more we’ll grow,” he said, adding “This won’t help you, not Ben Gvir, Levin, Rothman, or Bibi. You are not able to stop this protest. We will continued until you stop this crazy legislation.”

Police did not immediately respond to questions regarding the reason for Radman’s arrest or the circumstances of his injury.

The coalition is in the final stages of the legislative process for a law which would give coalition representatives on the Judicial Selection Committee together with a coalition-appointed Supreme Court president complete control over judicial appointments to all lower courts, and heavy influence over appointments to the Supreme Court.

The bill is likely to be approved in its final Knesset readings next week.

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