Protesters against overhaul begin forming defense group after right-wing attacks

Activists reportedly discuss organizing teams that could rush to conflict points to head off violence at demonstrations

Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on March 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on March 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

A civilian defense group has been formed following a string of violent incidents targeting protesters opposed to the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary, according to a Wednesday report.

The government’s judicial plans were paused on Monday amid massive, nationwide protests, some of which saw attacks by right-wing extremists on anti-overhaul protesters and other passersby.

Organized in a WhatsApp group that opened on Tuesday, the defense group said its goal was to “create a determined group of people who can reach the conflict points at demonstrations and prevent violence,” the Walla news site reported.

As of Wednesday, the group had reached nearly 500 members.

One member of the civil defense group wrote that it was formed in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir to advance plans for the formation of a National Guard under the far-right minister’s control.

“If Ben Gvir can, then so can we,” one member wrote, according to Channel 12.

The group, entitled “citizens police,” was opened by a 14-year-old boy and a 20-year-old. The teenager said he was shoved while protesting on Monday.

“The idea is to create an additional layer of defense for the protesters,” the teenager told Walla, adding that areas outside small towns and kibbutzim were particularly vulnerable to security incidents and in need of civilian protection.

Right-wing protesters block roads and set a fire in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Israel Police)

He stressed that the goal was to prevent any violence, saying, “We don’t want to hurt or endanger the other side.”

The group has discussed different approaches to thwarting violence, including by gathering to form a protective line in front of protesters, or forming response teams of five people who will be on alert and able to rush to any points of conflict.

On Monday, far-right activists accosted and threatened drivers at the entrances to two kibbutz communities, accusing residents of opposing Netanyahu and his government’s effort to overhaul the judiciary.

The assailants blocked traffic junctions at the entrances to Ein Harod and adjacent Tel Yosef in northern Israel, lit tires on fire, threw stones at vehicles and spit at and cursed their occupants, Haaretz reported.

On Monday, far-right pro-government protesters in Jerusalem attacked demonstrators opposed to the judicial overhaul, Arab passersby, members of the press and police officers.

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