People stage a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, demanding his resignation over corruption cases and deterioration in economic conditions, in front of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana's house in Tel Aviv, Israel, July 28, 2020. (Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Anti-Netanyahu Protesters Violently Attacked During March in Tel Aviv (with VIDEO)

Tensions in Israel between reach boiling point, with no end in sight

Violent gangs armed with glass bottles, clubs and pepper spray took to the streets Tuesday evening in Israel, attacking protesters marching through Tel Aviv and injuring a handful of them. The attacks, the latest in a series of altercations between anti-Netanyahu protesters and the prime minister’s supporters, were roundly condemned by Netanyahu’s coalition partner Benny Gantz early Wednesday morning. Netanyahu himself, meanwhile, waited till Wednesday afternoon to denounce the general violence in Israel, without going into particulars.

Over a thousand protesters once again packed the streets on Tuesday, electing this time to surround the house of Public Security Minister Amir Ohana. The prominent Likud minister and Netanyahu ally was recorded last week during a private meeting with the Jerusalem police chief, in which he demanded that the mass protests against Netanyahu be disbanded in any way possible. This, despite Israel’s Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the protests were legal and were not to be dispersed.

In video clips recorded by several protesters on Tuesday, groups of young men dressed in black could be seen insinuating themselves into the crowds, only to later turn on their fellow marchers with blows and punches. At least five were injured, some stabbed in the neck and head area and requiring immediate medical attention.

They came to murder people. There was a large group, punching, throwing glass bottles. I got pepper-sprayed. Where was the police?

Violent gangs armed with clubs, pepper spray, and rocks attack anti-Netanyahu protesters on the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel, July 28, 2020. (Courtesy Asaf Shafir)

One man was detained Tuesday evening – an anti-Netanyahu protester who was suspected of throwing a brick at the gang members after being attacked. He was released Wednesday afternoon. Also Wednesday, the police announced it had arrested three suspected attackers from the previous night.

“They came to murder people,” said Omer Cohen on Wednesday, one of the demonstrators who were attacked. “There was a large group, punching, throwing glass bottles. I got pepper-sprayed. Where was the police?”

Police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld told The Media Line that after first protesting at the agreed-upon location, demonstrators “decided to go into several directions. They split up and broke into a number of different protests.” Rosenfeld explained that the protesters that were later attacked “were not in one specific, cordoned area” and were therefore exposed to potential violence for several minutes before police could arrive at the scene.

Still, video footage taken at the scene shows what seem to be plain-clothed officers questioning several attackers moments after the confrontations occurred, but not detaining any of them. Protesters complained they had been left to fend for themselves, with police looking on but not intervening.

“Police are investigating the incident,” Rosenfeld stressed, “and will continue to prepare for future protests.” He pointed to the mass demonstrations held in Jerusalem in previous weeks, which saw several dozen Netanyahu supporters protesting a few feet away from thousands of anti-government demonstrators, and in which no violent incidents occurred. “We separated [those protests] and there were no confrontations.”

Yet right-wing extremists attacked several anti-Netanyahu protesters on side streets and alleys in Jerusalem leading to the main square where the demonstration took place.

While not the biggest demonstration seen over the past few weeks, Tuesday’s march in Tel Aviv was undoubtedly the most violent, the culmination of weeks of tensions building up between anti-Netanyahu protesters and the prime minister’s supporters.

Netanyahu himself took to Twitter to address Tuesday’s incident, calling on the police to “get to the bottom of what happened in Tel Aviv” before quickly pivoting to blaming his political rivals of inciting their followers to murder him.

Woe to our democracy if we raise our hands against one another

Last week, Netanyahu called the thousands pouring to the streets every week protesting his handling of the coronavirus crisis and his alleged corruption “disease-spreading anarchists.”

President Reuven Rivlin also condemned the violent attacks, warning: “The murder of a protester and the murder of the prime minister in Israel are not fictional scenarios anymore. Woe to our democracy if we raise our hands against one another.”

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