Hundreds of Israelis are protesting outside Prime Minister Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, a day after several demonstrators were arrested there during a protest against the premier.
The demonstrators hold up signs calling Netanyahu “crime minister” in reference to his indictment on corruption charges and also call for the release of Amir Haskel, a former air force general who was arrested yesterday outside the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Haskel and two other protesters remain in custody after refusing to be released under restrictive conditions.
Video of the protest shows the demonstrators standing in the middle of the road. Police said yesterday’s protest was illegal because demonstrators had blocked the road and allegedly disturbed public order.
Protests organized by the Black Flags movement broke out across Israel late Saturday, with demonstrators blocking more than 70 intersections nationwide.
Retired IAF Brigadier-General Amir Haskel, a member of the movement, was arrested while protesting outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residency on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street on Friday.
“Haskel’s arrest is part of a new way to shrink Israel’s democratic space,” the movement said. “In just the last two weeks the prime minister called for the arrest of a senior journalist, [N12 analyst] Amnon Abramovich was brutally attacked and Haskel has been detained since yesterday.”
Beginning Saturday, “it is time the people of Israel speak in the streets and squares. Israel belongs first and foremost to its citizens, and not to the self-designated royal family,” the organizers said.
According to the movement, “a protest camp will be established this week on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard.”
Hundreds gathered Friday near Netanyahu’s official residency on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, waving black flags and demanding he resign. Haskel, an organizer of the “Witnesses in Uniform” project, was among the six people arrested during the protest.
“A major-general, a brig.-gen. or a private – blocking the traffic will not be tolerated,” Public Security Minister Amir Ohana wrote on Facebook Saturday afternoon.
“Since assuming office, in all my conversations with police officers I convey a very clear message concerning events of public disorder – blocking the traffic will not be tolerated,” he said, calling it “violence toward innocent civilians using the road.”
Ohana denied the accusations of police brutality during the dispersal of the protest, saying that Haskel continued speaking to the crowd after being told to free the road.
According to the minister, the organizers of the protest did not receive a permit from Israel Police. Law enforcement, says Ohana, will have “zero tolerance to roadblocks.”
He continued, saying that “it does not matter who the organizers are, their ranks, their family or political connections.” According to the minister, “it applies to everyone – LGBTQ, Ethiopians, people with disabilities, freelancers, artists, pro or anti-Netanyahu” protesters.
Opposition head, former finance minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid-Telem) called Saturday afternoon for Haskel’s “immediate release.”
“Brig.Gen. Haskel was arrested yesterday during the Kabbalat Shabbat organized by protesters near the Balfour residency,” Lapid wrote on Twitter. “He is still in jail.”
“How about zero tolerance for bribery?” Lapid responded to Ohana. “Zero tolerance for fraud, zero tolerance for the person who sits on the inner side of the roadblock and stokes hatred among the people of Israel?”
The opposition leader called on police to release Haskel, adding that “Israel is not a dictatorship and any citizen is allowed to voice his [or her] opinion. And yes, on the prime minister, too.”
Former prime minister Ehud Barak also responded to the incident on Twitter, calling Haskel a “political prisoner” and accusing police of breaking the law.
“A retired brigadier-general in handcuffs and chained,” he wrote. “The Ohana/Netanyahu police is violating its own duty and breaking the law.”
According to Barak, “this is how it started with [former Philippine first couple] Ferdinand and Isabela Marcos or [former Argentinian first couple] Juan and Evita Perón. Whoever does not want to end there should wake up today!”
The head of the left-wing Meretz party is accusing Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of using police “as a tool to suppress” protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“But this won’t help him, because freedom of speech and freedom of protest are foundational principles in a democratic system and the police must protect them,” MK Nitzan Horowitz tweets.
Ohana, a close political ally of Netanyahu’s, denied the arrests were political.
The Meretz chief also calls for the release of three demonstrators who police continue to hold after they refused to be released under certain conditions, among them staying away from the Prime Minister’s Residence.
Header: People keep social distance amid concerns over the country’s coronavirus outbreak, during “Black Flag” protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government corruption, at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, April 19, 2020 | Photo: AP/Oded Balilty
Some two thousand people gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Sunday on April 19 to protest anti-democratic measures passed during the coronavirus crisis and the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while maintaining social distancing.
“This is how democracies die in the 21st century,” said Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid in his speech, “They don’t die because tanks overtake parliament, they die from the inside.”
The “Black Flag” protests first gained recognition in March, when a motorcade of hundreds of cars made its way to Jerusalem to protest anti-democratic measures to combat the virus, including approval of Shin Bet phone tracking of civilians. “It started with the coronavirus, when they [the government] started passing anti-democratic bills,” said Tamir Hefetz, one of the protest organizers. “I woke up and realized there is no alternative, tomorrow will be too late.”
“The State of Israel is passing on to the public a responsibility that it should carry,” said Gonen Ben Itzhak, another organizer.
In his speech, Lapid said Netanyahu has “turned the word democracy into a leftist word,” and that Israel is undergoing anti-democratic processes similar to those that took place in Hungary and Turkey.
Source: TOI – Jpost – Maariv