Rivlin defends right to protest, condemns Ohana

Lapid: Netanyahu needs to fire Amir Ohana

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yair Lapid
The right of citizens to protest is a fundamental value of Israel’s democracy and must not be harmed, President Reuven Rivlin said Monday. His remarks appeared to be directed at Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who has sought to halt ongoing demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
Speaking during a visit to Haifa, Rivlin denounced recent violence against some protesters and called on those demonstrating to do so respectfully and preserve public order.
Rivlin’s comments followed a KAN Radio report about leaked conversations between Ohana and Israel Police Jerusalem District Cmdr. Doron Yadid, in which he sought to pressure the police into moving the demonstrations away from the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street.
“The right to protest is a treasured value in our democratic culture; it must not be harmed,” Rivlin said Monday. “It is one of the values on which the Jewish and democratic state, which is so dear to us all, is based.”
Rivlin said the protesters should protest “in a way that keeps safe distances and preserves public order in coordination with the police and respects the State of Israel.”
Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets throughout the country over the past few weeks to express dissatisfaction at the way Netanyahu has handled the ongoing coronavirus crisis in Israel, leading to several clashes with police, who have been accused of heavy-handed tactics against protesters.
Ohana has been critical of the police for what he says he believes is an overly lenient approach to the demonstrations, something he reiterated in a recent conversation with the Jerusalem police commander.
“I don’t understand why we don’t ban this,” Ohana told Yadid in reference to the protests outside the Prime Minister’s Residence, despite High Court of Justice rulings that such protests are legal.
“I want to challenge the ruling of the court,” he said. “I don’t know how to explain to the public why we ban prayer and cultural performances and don’t ban this [the protests]. They are taking over the sidewalks with sleeping bags, mattresses and podiums. Don’t allow this.”
Such “disarray” could not continue, he added.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) on Monday condemned Ohana’s comments and called on Netanyahu to fire him.
“Democratic protests in democratic countries are chaotic,” and “a minister of public security who doesn’t understand that is in the wrong job,” he said during a Yesh Atid faction meeting in the Knesset.
“I’m telling Amir Ohana from here, this disarray can carry on, it will carry on, and no one asked you,” Lapid said.
“Netanyahu needs to fire Amir Ohana, today,” he said. “He won’t do it, of course, because he appointed him.”
Lapid accused Netanyahu of using Ohana “to try and silence the protesters because he is afraid.”
“And he’s right to be afraid,” he said. “It has been years since Israel saw protests like this, and they will only get stronger. People are fighting for their home, fighting for their livelihood.”
Speaking on Army Radio on Monday morning, Ohana denied that he had been pressured by Netanyahu to have the police stop the protests, adding that he was simply seeking equal treatment of all protesters.
“I am acting so that the police enforce [the law] equally,” Ohana said. He previously had insinuated that the police were harsher on haredi (ultra-Orthodox), Ethiopian and Arab protesters than the anti-Netanyahu demonstrators.