Soccer coach who plowed into protesters in Tel Aviv kept in detention for another day

Haim Sirotkin, coach of F.C. Tira, claims he did not intend to run over demonstrators, but his car malfunctioned, injuring five people at demonstration

Haim Sirotkin, the driver who is suspected of running over protesters at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on April 6, 2024, arrives for a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court the next day. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
Haim Sirotkin, the driver who is suspected of running over protesters at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on April 6, 2024, arrives for a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court the next day. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Sunday extended by 24 hours the detention of Haim Sirotkin, the driver who ran over five protesters at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

Sirotkin, 54, the coach of third-division soccer club F.C. Tira, claimed that Saturday’s incident, which left one protester moderately hurt and four lightly injured, was due to a technical malfunction in his car and that he had no intention of hurting anyone. He is currently being held on suspicion of endangering human life on a traffic route.

“It wasn’t on purpose, God forbid,” Sirotkin said in court. “I fled to the left. I apologize to anybody that was hurt.”

According to the police, Sirotkin, alongside his wife and two friends, got stuck in traffic after protesters calling for the release of hostages held by Hamas blocked Begin Street in Tel Aviv. Sirotkin began arguing with the protesters and twice tried to exit his vehicle, but was prevented from doing so by a police officer. He then accelerated forward, hitting demonstrators, and was apprehended shortly afterward by police.

Police say they had Sirotkin take a breathalyzer test and found alcohol levels nearly over the legal limit. They added that his car was checked and no technical issues were found, and his arrest should be extended because he is a “dangerous man.”

Sirotkin’s lawyer said his client is “a completely regular person, a soccer coach of [an Arab] team who promotes peace, coexistence and unity and has never been involved in a violent incident.”

According to Israel Hayom, Sirotkin has had legal issues in the past. In 1989, he was reportedly arrested for stealing radios, and in 2010, he was indicted for possessing drugs not for personal use and obstructing a police officer.

F.C. Tira’s chairman, Abed Titi, told Ynet: “Honestly, the club is shocked. I still don’t understand how this happened and how he ended up in this situation. I understood there was a malfunction with the car because this is not the Haim we know. He’s been with the team for several years, and there’s never been any issue with him. Calm, never irritable, never aggressive towards anyone. He always talked about coexistence. I’m very surprised.”

A former professional soccer player, the highlight of Sirotkin’s playing career was as a midfielder for first-division club Hapoel Petah Tikvah, where he played for three-and-a-half seasons, mostly as a substitute, and scored one goal. A 1989 profile of him in Maariv described him as “the future of Hapoel Petah Tikvah” and “talented, intelligent and elegant.” The article also noted his close relationship with the well-known coach Avram Grant, who managed the team at the time.

After his playing career ended, Sirotkin began coaching various lower-division teams in Israel. In a 2016 interview for a local soccer website, Sirotkin’s wife Limor, who was seen cursing protesters from the backseat of the car during Saturday’s incident, dubbed herself “the Sara Netanyahu of Liga Alef,” the name of the Israeli third division, and an insinuation to her influence over her husband. She also noted the work they do together to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence through her husband’s coaching of several teams from Arab Israeli towns. Yet, the couple’s joint Facebook page shows numerous posts against the Israeli left.

Saturday’s protests appeared to be the largest since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, which saw nearly 1,200 people killed, mostly civilians, and 253 kidnapped. Protesters called for early elections, the dismissal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and for a deal to be reached that will release hostages.

Incidents of cars ramming into anti-government protesters have occurred in the past year, the most recent being in September before the war began.

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