President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday criticized a protester who brandished a cardboard guillotine at an anti-corruption rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, calling the use of the prop “clear incitement.”
“An act like the one we witnessed last night, of a guillotine at a demonstration in Tel Aviv, was a sin against peaceful protesters and the democratic right to protest,” Rivlin said in a statement.
“This is clear incitement, which crosses the boundaries of freedom of expression and protest, and I condemn the clear statements implied by such an exhibit,” he added.
Rivlin’s condemnation came after the cardboard guillotine was denounced by politicians on both sides of the political aisle, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party saying it constituted incitement to violence against the Israeli premier.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan was quoted by the Kan public broadcaster as saying an investigation for incitement to violence should be opened over the sign.
Amid the growing furor, the protester behind the cutout denied it was a call for violence.
“I am a pacifist and reject all forms of violence,” Amit Brin wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
“The guillotine is an image that serves as a historical reminder of the citizens’ victory over a corrupt government that violated its trust,” he added.
He said the sign was also meant to recall a cigar cutter, an allusion to allegations Netanyahu received expensive cigars from Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan in exchange for advancing his business interests.
Last week, Brin posted a video of Netanyahu dismissing looming police recommendations in his cases, which were expected to recommend the prime minister stand trial.
“To paraphrase another corrupt [person], I merely say: If there are no recommendations, let them eat guillotines,” wrote Brin on December 19.
Denunciations of the cardboard guillotine cutout continued to pour in Sunday, with Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein saying it elicited his “disgust.”
A photograph of the sign from Saturday night’s demonstration on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard was shared on Twitter by a reporter for the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper. The image then circulated online, prompting comparisons to rowdy right-wing protests in the months before prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995.
כל שבוע טרול חדש , ברור שזה לא משקף את המפגינים ,שבוע טוב מוצ"ש הבא בהבימה בשעה
— מני נפתלי (@1978naftali) December 24, 2017
The Likud party put out a statement denouncing the demonstration.
“The guillotine tonight on Rothschild is incitement to murder Prime Minister Netanyahu, alongside calls disparaging Zionism,” the statement said, also alluding to a small group of protesters photographed waving signs that read “BDS” in support of the boycott Israel movement.
“The left-wing protest on Rothschild has crossed all of the red lines,” it said.
Eldad Yaniv, one of the organizers of the protests, rejected the Likud party’s claims.
“There were tens of thousands of patriotic Israelis waving Israelis flags at the rally,” he told Hadashot TV news. “The latest diversion [by the prime minister’s residence] is to search for idiotic signs and, thank God, every Saturday night there’s a fresh idiot who arrives with an idiotic sign.”
He was echoed by fellow protest organizer Menny Naftali, who called Brin a “troll.”
Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay condemned the guillotine cutout as “incitement.” But he was largely dismissive of the small group of protesters brandishing signs supporting an Israel boycott, saying they “do not even represent themselves.”
The “guillotine is incitement that must not be permitted and merely diverts the conversation away from the main issue: corruption,” said Gabbay in a Sunday morning statement.
The protesters have sought to position themselves as being above party politics, insisting that the sharp anti-Netanyahu tone at their rallies is due to the fact that the prime minister is under investigation for suspected corruption. Bolstering that claim was a largely right-wing event Saturday night in Jerusalem that was also billed as anti-corruption.
The rally in the capital, organized by right-wing columnist Yoaz Hendel, Netanyahu’s former communications director and current chair of the centrist Institute for Zionist Strategies think tank, drew several hundred people.
Hendel said he felt uncomfortable with the Tel Aviv protests due to their association with the left.
Among the public figures at the Jerusalem rally were former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon; Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, head of the Petah Tikva yeshiva and a prominent religious Zionist figure in Israel; and Kulanu MKs Rachel Azaria and Roy Folkman.
Hendel stressed that he was not against the government. “I’m not here against Netanyahu, I’m here for Israel,” he told the rally.
Ya’alon however, was more direct, warning that “corruption is a greater danger to Israel than Hezbollah or the Islamic State.”
Speaking to Hadashot news from the protest, Folkman said it was not a rally against the government, but only against corruption.
“I personally asked organizers that no one here speak against the prime minister,” he said.
The Likud also slammed the Jerusalem rally.
“The right does not buy this bluff. Everyone understands that this is not a demonstration against corruption, but a satellite demonstration of the left,” a Likud statement said, adding that “the only aim is to bring down the Likud government.”
The latest round of protests was buttressed by a coalition push for legislation that would block police investigators from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indicting suspected public officials.
Police are planning on recommending that Netanyahu stand trial in two criminal cases currently open against him, over suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen while advancing their interests, police officials told The Times of Israel.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
The prime minister has denied wrongdoing in all instances.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.