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Police to probe peace activist’s killer for inciting against anti-PM protesters

Decision comes after organizers of rallies outside Netanyahu residence filed complaint against Yona Avrushmi over threats aired in TV interview

Yona Avrushmi, center, who killed protester Emil Grunzweig with a grenade thrown at a peace rally in 1983, on the day of his release from prison after serving a life sentence on January 26, 2011. (Flash90)
Yona Avrushmi, center, who killed protester Emil Grunzweig with a grenade thrown at a peace rally in 1983, on the day of his release from prison after serving a life sentence on January 26, 2011. (Flash90)

The Israel Police said Sunday evening that it would launch an investigation into Yona Avrushmi, who decades ago killed left-wing activist Emil Grunzweig during a demonstration, over suspected incitement to murder in a TV interview in which the former convict called anti-Netanyahu protesters “germs” and suggested that counter-demonstrators “know exactly what to do” about them.

Avrushmi in 1983 lobbed a hand grenade into a left-wing rally, killing Peace Now activist Grunzweig and wounding nine others, among them former Labor Party minister Avraham Burg and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, who today is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.

He told a Channel 12 interviewer in a clip aired on Friday that the protesters are “germs, there’s no argument there… they spread diseases and must be kept away from society.” He also said that counter-demonstrators “know exactly what to do” about them.

“Israel Police will open a criminal investigation against Yona Avrushmi,” police said in a statement noting his comments “raise suspicion of incitement to violence.”

Police said the State Prosecutor’s office had signed off on the probe.

On Saturday, anti-Netanyahu protesters filed a police complaint against Avrushmi, citing incitement to murder.

Steinitz earlier Sunday called for police to arrest Avrushmi.

“I watched with amazement the statement of incitement to violence by the murderer Yoni Avrushmi,” Steinitz tweeted. “As someone who still carries in his leg a reminder of his murderous violence, in the shape of fragments from the grenade he threw, I call on the Israel Police and the enforcement authorities to arrest and investigate Avrushmi for his call to violence and to allow shedding the blood of demonstrators from the left.”

“Just as we must not be silent over calls to murder Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and to harm his family — so also we cannot accept calls for violence from the vile killer Yona Avrumshi, who killed Emil Grunzweig and injured me and others,” wrote Steinitz.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at the Knesset Interior and Environmental Protection Committee, July 22, 2020. (Adina Velman, Knesset spokes)

MK Moshe Ya’alon from the Yesh Atid-Telem party, a former defense minister and army chief, also called for Avrushmi’s immediate arrest. “He must be arrested right away… This is a clear incitement to murder,” Ya’alon said on Saturday. He claimed that Netanyahu was encouraging such sentiments by inciting against protesters himself.

Handed a life sentence in 1985, Avrushmi was released from prison in 2011 after serving 27 years.

During the Channel 12 interview, he spoke about the night of the 1983 rally, saying that he “didn’t buy the grenade to leave it at home. I threw it [into the crowd] and went home to sleep.”

The 1983 rally was organized by Peace Now and was held in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, then occupied by Menachem Begin. Protesters demanded the Begin government accept the findings of the Kahan Commission, created to investigate the Sabra and Shatila massacre by a Lebanese militia in 1982.

Protesters have, for weeks, been holding regular rallies on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on Netanyahu to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. They have been joined by people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds in the thousands and rising.

Emil Grunzweig (fourth from left) at the peace rally in 1983 at which he was killed by a hand-grenade. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Recent weeks have seen some incidents of violence by right-wing supporters of Netanyahu. Protesters have also accused police of using excessive force during the demonstrations.

Calling the political left “evil people” and “haters of Israel,” Avrushmi said: “I hate them and they hate me.”

Avrushmi, who lives in Tel Aviv, said he has no plans to “go to Balfour,” but “some young guys are going, and they know what to do, they know exactly what to do.”

Netanyahu and his supporters have strongly condemned the protesters, branding them “anarchists.” The premier has also accused them of alleged incitement against him and his family.

He also protested media coverage of the protests, which, he claimed blew them out of proportion.

A protester against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem on August 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The violence against anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, and the rhetoric on both sides of the divide, prompted President Reuven Rivlin to urge political leaders to calm tensions. In a statement at the end of last month, Rivlin recalled Grunzweig’s murder, as well as that of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated at a 1995 peace rally by extreme right-wing Jewish gunman, Yigal Amir.

“Woe betide our democracy if brother takes up arms against brother,” he warned.

The premier is on trial for a series of cases in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. He has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office.

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