Several activists taking part in wide-scale demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were attacked in separate incidents Saturday night, spraking calls for authorities to protect them.
Thousands of Israelis rallied for the resignation of the premier and against his government in city squares, central intersections and highway overpasses across the country Saturday, part of a rapidly growing protest movement.
The protests have led to pushback from some of Netanyahu’s supporters and at least some of the attacks Saturday night were blamed on pro-Netanyahu groups. Politicians, including some from Netanyahu’s governing coalition, spoke out against the attacks and in support of the right to protest.
In the Sha’ar Hanegev region bordering Gaza in southern Israel, one demonstrator was stabbed as a group of attackers assaulted demonstrators rallying against Netanyahu on a higbhway overpass.
The man, identified as a 40-year-old resident of Kibbutz Gavim, was treated for light lacerations to his neck.
חשיפת חזה על מנורה-לא אלימות
דקירה שטחית של מפגין בצווארו-אלימות. סו סימפל pic.twitter.com/C4aZyPo8Yh
— Almog Ben-zikri (@almogbenzikri) July 25, 2020
He told the Ynet news site that some 15 to 20 young people showed up in a group of cars and attacked the 30-odd demonstrators gathered on the overpass, which included children.
“They attacked the protesters with kicks and punches, tore up the signs and pushed us onto the road,” he said.
No arrests were reported in the incident.
In the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, a man said he and his son who were protesting near the Aluf Sade Junction were pepper-sprayed by a passing driver who slowed down to mace them, according to Hebrew media reports.
The two filed a police complaint, but no arrests were reported.
שימו לב: תיעוד האירוע באלוף שדה: הרכב מגיע, משפריץ גז מהחלון שליד הנהג על המפגינים בצומת ואז אנשים מתחילים להחנק. בטוח שלמשטרה יש את האמצעים הטכנולוגיים לאתר את הרכב הזה https://t.co/SlhrtS8qU8 pic.twitter.com/rVtVmWDSm8
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) July 25, 2020
In Jerusalem, protesters leaving a rally against Netanyahu outside his residence reported being harassed or attacked by a group of people wearing all black on nearby Lincoln Street.
One person told the Haaretz daily that he and his friend were stopped by the group and were physically attacked after they refused to answer if they were for or against Netanyahu.
Police said a man, 27, was found on Lincoln Street with pepper spray, a flare and drugs. It said five people were detained for disturbing public order. According to reports, the man with the pepper spray was arrested as well.
On Thursday, people leaving a previous rally outside Netanyahu’s residence also reported being attacked by a group of people in all black belonging to the La Familia gang of Beitar Jerusalem soccer club supporters, who had rallied in support of Netanyahu. The group is known for being involved in racist and homophobic attacks in the city, as well as violence against supporters of other soccer teams.
Among those to speak out against the attacks on the protesters was Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who tweeted that “the right to protest is sacred.”
“Anyone who raises a hand against protesters and threatens violence needs to be severely punished,” he wrote.
Economy Minister Amir Peretz also condemned the attack. “The right to protest is a basic right granted to every Israeli citizen,” he wrote, calling on police to protect the demonstrators and to “act against the attackers swiftly.”
Ofir Libstein, head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, spoke out against “the brutal violence we saw tonight.”
“We won’t allow a group of lawbreakers to harm the democratic rights of residents of Sha’ar Hanegev.”
The attacks came days after Public Security Minister Amir Ohana reportedly complained about police treating anti-Netanyahu protesters with kid gloves.
Netanyahu and some of his supporters have spoken out against the protesters as “anarchists.”
The protests have drawn thousands of Israelis angry at government corruption, the handling of the coronavirus crisis, and other ills. Saturday’s rallies appeared to be the largest yet since the protests began to ramp up earlier this month.