Public Security Minister Amir Ohana criticized the police on Thursday for allowing a protest march in Tel Aviv on Wednesday night that saw demonstrators block roads and scuffle with police.
The march came as lawmakers pushed through a measure that will severely curtail a nationwide protest movement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as part of a lockdown meant to get runaway virus numbers under control. Protesters and opposition figures say the clampdown is a politically motivated ploy to protect Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.
Police issued a statement Wednesday night that described the nighttime protest march in Tel Aviv as illegal and occasionally violent, but said, “Despite that fact, police forces permitted the march and secured its route.”
Ohana, the minister in charge of the police and prisons, criticized the police statement and handling of the protest.
“It’s okay to say, ‘sorry, we were mistaken, we’ll fix it,'” Ohana wrote on Twitter. “The officers have a hard and thankless job” in enforcing virus rules, he wrote. “A statement like this from [police] spokespeople undermines a lot of their efforts.
“If something is illegal — the police are not allowed to ‘permit and secure’ it. Police must act according to the law and enforce it. That’s how the police will be judged,” he added.
The police statement had described the march as “illegal,” and “without coordination or police approval.”
At the end of the late-night protest, police said they had to deal with several assault incidents, arresting four protesters all told.
Many protesters also refused to abide by coronavirus rules, marching without face masks and failing to stay two meters’ distance from each other, they said.
Protesters insisted the march was legal, and that violence only began when some officers attempted to divide the protesters into separate groups.
Ohana, a Netanyahu loyalist, has in the past criticized police for using too light a hand against protesters, in his view.
In July, as protests against Netanyahu gathered steam, Ohana was heard in a recording aired by the Kan public broadcaster pressuring a top police official to crack down on the demonstrations, which have been centered in Jerusalem.