3 pro-gov’t protesters accused of violent plot; cops arrest suspect in attack on Arab

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A Jerusalem teenager was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of being involved in Monday night’s attack on an Arab cab driver in the capital. The attack came amid a right-wing protest near the Knesset where thousands gathered to oppose a demonstration against the judicial overhaul pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline coalition, which has now been suspended.

Police said 17-year-old Jerusalem was arrested on suspicion of being part of the “serious and violent” attack on the cab driver on Monday night. The victim was surrounded by right-wing protesters who threw objects at his vehicle and smashed his window, police said. The driver tried to flee​​​​ through a nearby gas station, but was then “fiercely attacked by the rioters who chased him and severely damaged his car.”

A member of the suspect’s family lied to police about the teenager’s whereabouts when officers arrived at the home, police said Tuesday, and the suspect tried to flee through a balcony. Both the teen and the family member were arrested, according to police, the latter on suspicion of obstructing an investigation and aiding the suspect’s escape attempt.

Additional arrests were expected in the incident, which was deemed racist by police.

Police and the Shin Bet security service also gave additional details on Tuesday of three people arrested the previous night on suspicion of planning to harm anti-government demonstrators in Jerusalem.

In an earlier statement, police said the three suspects posted a video on social media in which they expressed their intention to attack anti-reform protesters. The video shows three people traveling in a vehicle, with one telling viewers they are on their way to Jerusalem, armed with guns, knives and eggs.

“There are eggs, there are knives, there are weapons. We are on our way to Jerusalem to fuck [up] the [protesters],” one of the suspects said in the video.

When the police became aware of the video, they launched efforts to find the three at the right wing.

The three, residents of the city center of Yavneh and the surrounding area aged 17, 25, and 26, were nabbed during the protest near the Jerusalem City Cinema on Monday in the joint police-Shin Bet operation. A licensed firearm was seized from one of the suspects.

The three were ordered released to house arrest under restrictive conditions on Tuesday morning, after appearing before a judge at the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court. The police said they were appealing the decision.

“Security forces will continue to act resolutely against violence, threats and intentions to harm demonstrators, journalists, police officers and anyone else,” the police and Shin Bet said in a statement.

In Monday’s demonstrations, there were further reports of far-right activists attacking anti-government demonstrators as well as Arab passers-by, members of the press and police officers.

Among the pro-reform protesters in Jerusalem were dozens of members of the right-wing extremist group La Familia, some of whom were filmed attacking Arab migrants. Members of the group have also been blamed for other reported attacks. The ultra-nationalist La Familia is a fan club of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, although the team has repeatedly distanced itself from the organization due to its racist rhetoric and violent antics. Security officials have previously called for it to be outlawed as a terrorist organisation.

A television news crew from Channel 13 was also attacked on Monday night during the demonstration. Channel 13 reporter Yossi Eli was hospitalized with a broken rib and suspected damage to his spleen while cameraman Avi Cashman suffered a head injury.

Eli tweeted Tuesday thanks to the police for saving him from “a group of rioters and members of La Familia who blocked the road in Jerusalem, spat at us, threw things and hit our photographer Cashman on the head with a stick.”

In another incident, government supporters on behalf of demonstrations in Jerusalem harassed Tamer Alkilani, a reporter for Kan 33, the Arabic division of public broadcaster Kan, at a demonstration in Jerusalem while trying to provide a live update.

Netanyahu, his son Yair and many right-wing commentators have increasingly denigrated the country’s mainstream media, often accusing propaganda outlets and TV networks of balancing (except the pro-Netanyahu channel 14) with Al Jazeera which is based in Qatar.

Opposition leaders on Tuesday urged the government and Israel Police to crack down on violence by government supporters.

MK Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition and Yesh Atid party, in a statement, blamed Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir for the incidents.

Lapid tweeted that pro-government supporters were guilty of “rampant, ugly and dangerous violence.”

“This is what violence looks like, Mr. Netanyahu, and these are the results of your incitement and the TikTok clown. [Ben Gvir] who wants to turn his militia of thugs into a ‘national guard’ that will leave terror and violence everywhere in the country,” Lapid wrote, referring to Ben Gvir’s demand for a new security force under his control and critics said. which amounts to a private militia.

In recent weeks Netanyahu has accused the largely peaceful anti-government protesters of violence and plotting political assassinations.

Opposition MK Benny Gantz, who heads the National Unity party, tweeted that he is receiving “difficult testimonies from protesters who attacked supporters of the legislation”.

He urged Netanyahu to “unequivocally call for non-violence,” adding, “Everyone has the right and duty to express their voice – and it is absolutely forbidden to raise a hand against someone others, to harass or harm them. Stop now!”

Right-wing protesters block roads, set fire in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Israel Police)

While there was no immediate comment from Netanyahu, one cabinet member did speak. Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi tweeted that “the police must prosecute anyone who attacks journalists. Do not attack journalistic staff, do not use violence at all. This is a red line that no one must cross, ever!”

Channel 13 said that, in light of the incident, it will now provide two bodyguards to its news crews when they cover demonstrations related to the controversial legislation.

In a statement, the network said it condemns the attack on its news team and expects the police to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Also the Union of Journalists in Israel urged the police to find those responsible. “The attack on Eli follows several similar incidents of attacks on journalists and medical staff in recent days,” the union said in a statement.

It is alleged that Eli was also attacked at a demonstration on Sunday, that time by police. Channel 13 cameraman Shai Toni was also said to have been roughly handled and his camera broken.

The attacks on Monday came as clashes erupted with police who sought to clear roads and restore order overnight due to mass protests for and against the government’s judicial reform across major cities. while the country is still reeling after Netanyahu announced that his government would temporarily halt the legislative push. which encouraged the demonstrations, to allow dialogue.

The largest demonstrations of the evening took place in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with the former a gathering place for thousands of pro-reform demonstrators and the latter hosting the same number of protesters against the government’s attempt to curb to radicalize the High Court of Justice. power. Fifty-three demonstrators were arrested for blocking roads and causing public disturbances throughout the day across the country, though mostly in Tel Aviv.

Earlier in the day, Netanyahu promised to establish a “national guard” under Ben Gvir’s direct authority in exchange for the far-right minister who supported his decision to suspend the judicial reform legislation. Ben Gvir already oversees the Israel Police and has repeatedly expressed his frustration at not following his instructions. (The police and its commissioner have a large degree of autonomy, and while the Minister can set policy, he does not have the authority to make operational directives to avoid politicizing the force.)

Weekly mass protests have been held for nearly three months against the proposed legislation, which critics say will politicize the court, remove key checks on government power and seriously damage Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will stay judges who they claim have overstepped their bounds.

Netanyahu announced on Monday night that he was temporarily halting the legislation to allow talks.

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