Leading activist says only peace can bring security

Police deny permit for anti-war protest; left-wing groups vow High Court appeal

Organizers say they will seek permission for an even bigger demonstration next week, after cops reverse approval for Thursday’s rally, citing threat of violence

Standing Together activists protest against the Israel-Hamas war, calling for a ceasefire, in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Standing Together activists protest against the Israel-Hamas war, calling for a ceasefire, in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

JTA — An anti-war protest on Thursday organized by a broad coalition of Israeli left-wing organizations in the heart of Tel Aviv was canceled after police denied the event a permit.

Organizers say they will appeal the denial to the High Court and make plans for an even bigger event next week. The rally, and its cancellation, illustrate cracks in Israelis’ support for the war as well as what peace groups have called a chilling of left-wing activism.

“We were supposed to have, tonight, a big rally and demonstrations in Tel Aviv under the slogan that only peace can bring security, and calling out for Israeli-Palestinian peace,” said Rula Daood, national co-director of Standing Together, one of the rally’s lead organizers, along with Women Wage Peace and 20 other groups.

Daood told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that police greenlit the rally earlier in the week, only to revoke that permission later on. According to Haaretz, police denied the permit on the grounds that the rally’s location, at Habima Square in central Tel Aviv, increased the likelihood of violence breaking out.

“They said that us having a demonstration that talks about peace will only bring chaos and incitement to violence in the streets of Tel Aviv,” she said.

An antiwar demonstration in Haifa is planned for Saturday, though police have also denied a permit for that gathering. A November 18 protest in Tel Aviv was attended by some 700 people who called for an end to the war and the return of the hostages held by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.

Left wing activists protest against the Israel-Hamas war, calling for a ceasefire, in Tel Aviv, on December 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The war was triggered by the Hamas-led October 7 assault on southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 240 people were taken hostage.

While Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group enjoys wide support domestically, a minority has protested the military campaign in Gaza, calling for a ceasefire and diplomatic solution for the return of the hostages.

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir supports a ban on all antiwar protests, and in early November, the High Court upheld a ban on protests in two Arab Israeli cities. Police later questioned three former Arab Israeli lawmakers over plans to organize a protest in Nazareth, in northern Israel.

Days later, Israel’s first organized antiwar protest of several hundred people took place in a fenced-off area in a Tel Aviv park, after a High Court hearing in which police allowed it to go forward.

This week, the High Court issued an injunction saying that Ben Gvir, who oversees the Israel Police, is not allowed to give police instructions during protests.

File: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In response, Ben Gvir criticized the injunction and the attorney general, with whom he has repeatedly clashed.

“Immediately after the slaughter on October 7, I instructed the Israel Police to prevent protests identifying with the Nazis from Hamas,” he wrote on Facebook. “To my disappointment, the state prosecution forced the Israel Police to agree to these protests. This morning, the High Court made an outrageous decision to deny me the authority to prevent support for the enemy at a time of war.”

The High Court petition against Ben Gvir followed numerous instances throughout 2023’s protests against the government’s judicial overhaul in which the minister was accused of closely involving himself in policing the demonstrations in an attempt to repress them, pressuring police to use tougher methods of crowd dispersal.

Organizers from Standing Together suggested that the denial of their permit indicated that Ben Gvir’s policy to prevent anti-war protests was still being heeded in spite of the injunction.

“He’s trying to make the police force police [from] his own point of view, that anyone who talks about peace, or criticizes the Israeli government action right now, is not acceptable,” said Daood.

A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during an IDF strike on January 11, 2024. (AFP)

The absence of large protests now is a stark contrast to the period before October 7, when massive protests against the government’s proposed overhaul dominated Israeli discourse and frequently filled major intersections.

Polls show that the vast majority of Jewish Israelis support Israel’s war effort against Hamas in Gaza, while Arab Israeli opinion is mixed.

Still, Daood said that the Israeli left was drawing new activism as Standing Together’s activities have grown to record levels in the last three months. The group has organized a series of gatherings across Israel post-October 7, and drew audiences of hundreds to a recent series of events in the United States.

“Many people say that on October 7 people became more extreme and it is true that tons of people went more to the right, but also more people went to the left,” Daood said. “When you combine them all together, we’ve had thousands of people coming to our rallies talking about partnership and talking about a real peace and a ceasefire agreement.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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