Anti-Netanyahu protesters filed a police complaint citing incitement to murder against Yona Avrushmi, the killer of left-wing activist Emil Grunzweig, on Saturday following comments he made in a TV interview calling them “germs” and suggesting that counter-demonstrators “know exactly what to do” about them.
The complaint was lodged at a police department in Kfar Saba by a member of the Crime Minister group, one of the three main groups organizing protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The complaint came ahead of expected large-scale protests later Saturday in Jerusalem and elsewhere.
The group also sent an urgent letter to Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen urging that Avrushmi be arrested immediately. “If Avrushmi is not arrested and there is violence this evening, protesters’ blood will be on the police’s hands,” they wrote.
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, adding that the comments were based on allegedly inciting statements made by Netanyahu himself.
Avrushmi, who in 1983 lobbed a hand grenade into a left-wing rally, killing Grunzweig and wounding nine others — among them former Labor Party minister Avraham Burg and Likud minister Yuval Steinitz — 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.”
Calling them “evil people” and “haters of Israel,” he said: “I hate them and they hate me.”
Avrushmi, who lives in Tel Aviv, said he has no plans to “go to Balfour” to see the protests against Netanyahu but “some young guys are going, and they know what to do, they know exactly what to do.”
Avrushmi was handed a life sentence for the killing and served 27 years in prison before his release in 2011. During a police interrogation after the murder, Avrushmi was quoted as telling officers that the peace activists protesting at the time were “germs that must be eliminated.”
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 rally nearly four decades ago 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.
“When you love someone, you are prepared to die for them. I loved Begin then like they admire Netanyahu now. And I love Netanyahu more than Begin,” he said.
The Crime Minister group demanded that Avrushmi be arrested to “send a clear message of deterrence and zero tolerance to the young people he encouraged.” The group also criticized Channel 12 for broadcasting the interview.
“In a functioning country, the prime minister would have immediately condemned the killer, but in Israel in 2020, the incitement starts in Balfour,” the group said in a statement, taking aim at Netanyahu. They called on the public to attend Saturday’s protest in Jerusalem “en masse and without fear” as a direct “response to the incitement and violence. ”
Netanyahu and his supporters have strongly condemned the protesters, branding them “anarchists,” and the premier has also accused them of alleged incitement against him and his family. He has also protested media coverage of the protests, which he claims blows them out of proportion.
In their statement on Saturday, the Crime Minister group said it was clear that Avrushmi admires Netanyahu and suggested that the premier’s serious comments were being echoed by the convicted killer.
The name of the group is borrowed from a popular slogan at the growing anti-Netanyahu rallies, and reference his legal troubles. 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.
Protesters have for weeks been holding regular rallies on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on the premier 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.
The demonstrations take place several times a week across from the Prime Minister’s residence, including Thursdays and Fridays, and culminating on Saturdays. The weekly Friday protests, which are called “Kabbalat Shabbat,” tend to attract more young families than the larger Saturday night protests which have frequently seen clashes between protesters and police.
Large-scale protests are once again expected on Saturday evening. Last week, some 10,000 people attended the rally outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, the largest yet, according to police. Organizers said the actual numbers ranged between 15,000-30,000 people.
Like in past weeks, protests are also expected on highways overpasses and major junctions, as well as outside the home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who has called to curb the demonstrations.
More limited protests calling on Netanyahu to resign were held outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence on Thursday and Friday night.
On Thursday, police told the High Court of Justice that it believed it should reject a petition against the demonstrations by dozens of residents of Jerusalem neighborhoods Rehavia and Talbieh, who are seething over the weekly protests near their homes.
Siding with the demonstrators, police told the court that any attempts to curtail the rallies, held several times weekly, would impinge on the freedom to protest.
Police said they would therefore not place a cap on the number of participants, or relocate the protests elsewhere. The force also rebuffed a call to restrict the rallies due to health fears amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Anat Peled contributed to this report.