Shabtai called cop being probed for throwing stun grenade at protest, gave backing

Police commissioner supports conduct of officers at Tel Aviv anti-government demonstration during which force was used, but says cops are not exempt from internal investigations

A police officer is seen hurling a stun grenade during a Tel Aviv protest against the judicial overhaul on March 1, 2023. (Screen capture/Twitter)
A police officer is seen hurling a stun grenade during a Tel Aviv protest against the judicial overhaul on March 1, 2023. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai phoned and expressed his support to an officer who was filmed hurling a stun grenade into a crowd of people at a mass anti-government rally hours earlier on Wednesday, according to a Channel 13 report.

The next day, the Police Internal Investigations Department opened a probe into the conduct of Meir Suisa, a senior officer in the Tel Aviv District. Videos showed him casually throwing a grenade into the center of a crowd of demonstrators, despite regulations against doing so.

The grenade was one of the dozens used by officers at the Tel Aviv demonstration against the government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary. The protest was the largest of what organizers dubbed “a day of disruption,” which drew tens of thousands of people.

Police charged that the protesters became violent when officers sought to prevent them from continuing to block roads, forcing the use of more extreme measures. Demonstrators rejected the charge, insisting that police were the only ones acting violently in what led to the hospitalization of 11 protesters, including one man who required surgery to re-attach his ear after being hit by a stun grenade.

Addressing a ceremony for graduating officers on Thursday, Shabtai sought to strike a diplomatic tone, saying that the right to protest is a central tenant of Israeli democracy and that the Israel Police are committed to safeguarding it.

“At the same time, we cannot put up with violence and disorder on a wide scale, and as the police commissioner, I will not tolerate attacks on officers,” he said.

“I salute the police officers and support their actions,” Shabtai continued. “This does not exempt us from internal investigations and learning lessons.”

The police commissioner went on to say that 11 officers were injured in Wednesday’s protests and wished them a speedy recovery.

However, the Magen David Adom emergency service did not report any police officers who were evacuated for treatment and Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital did not count any cops among those who were injured in the demonstrations.

Tel Aviv resident Dan Peled was among those hospitalized though after being struck by a police stun grenade. The 36-year-old told Channel 13 that “for no apparent reason, officers began rushing toward us while hurling grenades.”

“I took a direct hit to my shoulder, which caused a severe burn and major bruise,” he said. “Police should not shoot at demonstrators under any circumstances. We came to demonstrate because we love our country and are really worried about what is happening.”

MK Itamar Ben Gvir, left, and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai at a special Knesset debate, on December 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some 50 people were arrested in total during all of Wednesday’s demonstrations. By Thursday though, all of them had been released save for one suspect who allegedly sought to grab an officer’s weapon. However, during his remand hearing on Thursday at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, the presiding judge noted holes in the police account. The officer told the court that the suspect had been wearing a brown shirt, even though the shift on the detainee was grey. Nonetheless, the judge agreed to extend his remand for at least one more day.

Earlier Thursday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who oversees the police, expressed his own backing for police conduct during the previous day’s mass protests.

The protests came as the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved for its first reading in the Knesset plenum a government-backed bill to radically restrict the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation, amid opposition outrage directed at committee chair MK Simcha Rothman for his management of the process.

Critics say the proposed overhaul will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances, and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters say it is a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.

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