Following suspected far-right attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters the previous night in Tel Aviv, President Reuven Rivlin warned Thursday against political violence, suggesting that it could soon turn deadly.
“I want to say clearly, given the violent developments over the last day: the murder of a demonstrator who goes to protest in the State of Israel, or the murder of an Israeli prime minister, are not imaginary scenarios,” Rivlin said in a statement, referring to the 1983 killing of left-wing protester Emil Grunzweig by a right-wing activist at a Jerusalem protest and the 1995 assassination of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by an opponent of the Oslo peace process at the end of a peace rally in Tel Aviv.
“Woe betide our democracy if brother takes up arms against brother,” he continued.
“Censure and condemnation have become cheap. Every denunciation is immediately attacked with questions of why a different event was not condemned, and its meaning is lost entirely.”
Several suspected far-right members attacked protesters late Tuesday as they took part in a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv home of Amir Ohana, the public security minister, who had been recorded pressuring police brass to step up enforcement against anti-Netanyahu demonstrators.
The attackers were seen hitting demonstrators with glass bottles, clubs and chairs and spraying them with mace. Organizers of the protest said five people were hospitalized, including two with stab wounds to their backs. Later reports said 10 were hospitalized.
מהומה ואלימות כרגע באזור הסינמטק. המפגינים טוענים כי חבורה של מפגינים שתולים נכנסה ללב ההפגנה והחלה להכות ללא הבחנה, מצורף תיעוד חלקי ועוד אחד בציוץ הבא. במקום פוזר גם גז מדמיע ועכשיו כוח של יס״מ הגיע לאבטח אך נראה כי התוקפים האלמונים נעלמו pic.twitter.com/tEzlvabaLd
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) July 28, 2020
Denouncing the attacks, Rivlin called on police to bring justice to those responsible, while also condemning threats against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his family.
The Israel Police said it arrested three suspects in connection with the attacks.
Netanyahu, in his first public response Wednesday afternoon to the attacks on protesters, made a point of mentioning a police officer who was injured in a recent protest as well as alleged threats against himself and his family.
“The investigation of the incident in Tel Aviv is underway. I expect the police to get at the truth and bring to justice those responsible. There’s no room for violence for any reason,” he wrote on Facebook.
He added, “At the same time, there’s no room for incitement or threats of murder — explicitly or implicitly — against me and members of my family, including the shameful threat of crucifixion made today in Tel Aviv.”
Netanyahu was referring to an art installation placed in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Wednesday morning that depicted the prime minister eating a sumptuous meal, including an oversize cake, at a banquet table, in a play on Jesus’s Last Supper.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz alleged that the attacks on anti-Netanyahu protesters were the work of “organized criminal gangs” and said he’d work to ensure those behind the violence are punished.
“Yesterday a line was crossed when citizens exercising their right to protest were attacked by organized criminal gangs,” Gantz said in a statement.
Gantz vowed to ensure the right to protest isn’t limited and said violence must be publicly denounced.
“Democracy is in fact tested at times of crimes; a government is in fact tested in periods like these,” he said. “I intended to convene a government meeting on the violent events and to work actively with the Israel Police to ensure the acts are dealt with… and those who sow unjustified hate, incitement and harm citizens are punished.”
Protests have been held repeatedly over the past weeks near the Prime Minister’s Residence. The protests have drawn thousands of Israelis angry at government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis, and other ills.
There have been occasional scenes of violence at recent protests, often from police officers attempting to disperse the demonstrators, videos from the scene have shown. Earlier this week three people were arrested over attacks on protesters at different locations around the county.
Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the protesters as “anarchists.”
Netanyahu 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. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office, and has refused to leave office.