Several suspected far-right activists attacked protesters late Tuesday as they took part in a demonstration outside the Tel Aviv home of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana after he was recorded pressuring police brass to step up enforcement against demonstrators rallying against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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 in their backs. Later reports said 10 people were hospitalized.
“They hit us with chairs, bottles and glass. Blood was spilled,” one protester told the Walla news site.
Army Radio initially reported that the attackers were members of the La Familia Beitar Jerusalem soccer hooligan club. The group has been associated with far-right and racist elements and was blamed for a similar attack on protesters in Jerusalem last week. However unnamed officials close to the investigation later told Channel 12 news that the suspects in the attacks were not affiliated with the soccer hooligan group.
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
Police said they had arrested four people for disturbing the peace and assault at the rally, but gave no further details.
Hundreds of protesters had gathered on Tuesday evening outside Ohana’s home.
The demonstrators then moved to block the Ayalon Highway, forcing police to redirect traffic.
מפגינים הותקפו פה
שי מסלנט מפגין שהותקף על ידי אנשי לה פמיליה. ריססו עליו גז פלפל ושברו עליו בקבוק זכוכית. יש פה עוד כמה פצועים pic.twitter.com/f2i1tyHLuK
— Ben Netzer בן נצר (@netzer_ben) July 28, 2020
Outside the Likud minister’s home, protesters stood behind a barricade chanting slogans against Ohana, the government, and police, while blowing vuvuzelas. They shouted, “Police, who do you protect?” “Shame,” “Who will protect us from the police?” and other slogans against the cops.
A neighbor of Ohana’s told The Times of Israel that the protest was larger than others that have been held outside his home in a Tel Aviv high-rise, though smaller than other recent anti-government protests.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, pressing forward with the campaign calling on the longtime leader to step down.
Demonstrators chanted the slogan that has become the rallying cry of the protests against Netanyahu while he stands trial on corruption charges: “Capital! Regime! Underworld!”
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.
Protesters have also turned their attention to Ohana after he was reported to have pushed for police to crack down on demonstrations in Jerusalem outside Netanyahu’s official residence.
According to leaked recordings aired Sunday by the Kan public broadcaster, Ohana is seeking to challenge a High Court of Justice ruling that allowed the continued protests in Jerusalem against Netanyahu, and is applying immense pressure on police to handle demonstrators more severely.
In response to the leak, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit sent a letter to acting police commissioner Moti Cohen Tuesday telling him to only make decisions based on professional considerations.
“Decision-making in regards to dealing with protests has been granted to the police under your leadership; only with your professional judgement and without [unrelated] considerations,” Mandelblit wrote.
Protests have been held repeatedly over the past week 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.
Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the protesters as “anarchists.”
Ohana has previously been reported to be pushing for the Jerusalem demonstrations to either be banned or relocated away from their usual site outside the official residence.
The High Court has approved the ongoing protests near the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, angering some local residents who have petitioned the court to ban them, saying they have been disrupting their daily lives.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.