Israel: Far-right protesters attack Palestinians during pro-government rallies
Far-right Israeli protesters who support the government’s controversial judicial reform attacked passers-by in a Palestinian street on Monday night, a day of strikes and protests across the country.
That evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was delaying the government’s controversial overhaul of the country’s courts, after 12 weeks of mass protests.
The far-right Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, agreed to the delay, in exchange for allowing the creation of a “national guard” loyal to his ministry.
More than 80,000 anti-government protesters gathered outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem this evening, where right-wing, pro-government demonstrators later also gathered.
Ben Gvir and far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich were among several government figures who encouraged right-wing groups to take to the streets.
Footage shared Monday night from Jerusalem showed a Palestinian taxi driver surrounded by right-wing protesters, who threw objects, punches and kicked at his vehicle.
The driver then tried to flee towards a gas station, but was “attacked by the rioters who chased him and severely damaged his car”, according to a police statement.
A video of protesters running towards the gas station was widely circulated shared online. Police said they were investigating the incident, and that at least three suspects had been arrested.
Elsewhere in Jerusalem, right-wing demonstrators block another Palestinian driver’s path and chanted “May your village burn”, while Israeli and Likud flags were flying.
In another clip shared online, a Palestinian youth is seen crying he gave away after being caught up in right-wing protestors.
‘Netanyahu is a threat to Israel’
Opposition lawmakers condemned the scenes, blaming Ben-Gvir and his supporters.
“Ben Gvir militias from La Familia are now going wild on the streets of Jerusalem. Looking to beat the Arabs,” Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli said on Twitter.
“This is the man Netanyahu promised to establish his own militia with regular salaries at the expense of the state. Netanyahu is a threat to Israel.”
La Familia, a group of fans of the Beitar Jerusalem football team with a history of violence, took part in a counter demonstration on Monday.
Earlier on Monday evening, during anti-government protests against the judicial reforms, a man waving a Palestinian flag was attacked and his flag removed.
Haaretz reported that right-wing activists were using WhatsApp and other social media platforms to call on supporters to take up arms and use vehicles to attack anti-government protesters.
In one group, called ‘The Unapologetic Right’, a member asked protesters to bring “gasoline, explosives, tractors, guns and knives”.
Labor party parliamentarian Gilad Kariv referred to attacks on Palestinians on Monday night as “solicited lynchings”.
“This is an organized infrastructure and not spontaneous gatherings. The police and Shin Bet do not have a proper response, in terms of intelligence or operations, to this violent infrastructure. Time for them to wake up,” he tweeted.
Ameer Makhoul, a Palestinian analyst based in the Israeli city of Haifa, told Middle East Eye that Netanyahu’s promise to Ben-Gvir a “national guard” was more a victory for the far-right than for the judicial reforms themselves.
He said that the national guard, which Ben-Gvir claims is needed to increase security throughout Israel and would be loyal to his national security ministry, would have an “ideological” hostility to Palestinian citizens in Israel.
Israel’s main labor union also called off a national strike, with Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, praising Netanyahu for delaying the overhaul and offering to help with a compromise reform.
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The break comes as many warned that Israel was on the verge of civil conflict. Earlier on Monday, Israel’s army chief of staff warned that “a storm is brewing at home”, as thousands of military reservists threatened not to serve in the army if the reform is successful.
Flights were also grounded at Ben Gurion International Airport for several hours amid the national strike, and Israeli embassies around the world stopped work in solidarity with demonstrators.
The White House said it welcomed the delay to proceed with the reform and urged the Israeli parties to leave room for compromise.
The proposed judicial reforms would give parliament the power to override Supreme Court decisions through a simple majority vote, and de facto control over court nominees, a role currently held by a mixed panel of politicians, judges and bar association members.
It would also limit the court’s ability to strike down unconstitutional legislation.