Thousands demonstrate against arrests, Netanyahu

Gantz, Ashkenazi give backing to protests, call for release of arrested former brigadier-general. Likud denounces media, alleging bias against Netanyahu, right-wing.

Black Flags demonstrators protesting the arrest of brig.-gen. (res.) Amir Haskel and calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign. (photo credit: BLACK FLAGS MOVEMENT)
Black Flags demonstrators protesting the arrest of brig.-gen. (res.) Amir Haskel and calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign.
(photo credit: BLACK FLAGS MOVEMENT)
Protests organized by the Black Flags movement against corruption broke out across Israel late Saturday, with demonstrators blocking more than 70 intersections nationwide following the arrest of retired Brig.-Gen. Amir Haskel on Friday afternoon.
Haskel, a member of the Black Flags movement, was arrested at a protest outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem because the organization had not received permission to stag the rally and Haskel and others were allegedly blocking the road.
The arrest caused further strains within the coalition, with Blue and White leader and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz as well as his party colleague and Foreign Minister, MK Gabi Ashkenazi both speaking out against Haskel’s detention on Saturday night and called for his release.
“The right to protest is a holy right in the State of Israel and it is totally forbidden to harm it apart from in extreme situations, therefore, from the information I have, I think that the three protestors who were arrested should be released without any limitations,” said Gantz.
Gantz said that he had spoken with Ohana who had described “the injury to public order and the blocking of roads,” and said that although he backed the police in general, “more expansive policies” should be used regarding the right to free protest.
Following widespread media coverage and condemnation not only from the Blue and White leaders but numerous opposition politicians, the Likud accused the press of hypocrisy for not opposing the arrests of Sheffi Paz and other “right-wing activists.”
Paz and two other activists were indicted in February this year after vandalizing offices of the European Union in September 2019.
“All of a sudden, when a left-wing activist is arrested when he is violating the law and blocking a road at a left wing protest organized by Ehud Barak, a friend and partner of the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, the media turns it into a festival in order to encourage protests against the Likud and the leadership of Netanyahu,” the Likud said in a statement to the press.
Thousands of protestors took part in the demonstrations on Saturday against the arrest of Haskel and others, with senior politicians taking part, including former defense minister and current Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Ya'alon, former Deputy IDF chief of staff and Meretz MK Yair Golan, former head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) Ami Ayalon, and several other MKs. 
On Saturday afternoon, Ohana wrote on his Facebook page that blocking traffic would not be tolerated whether by "a major-general, a brigadier-general or a private.”
"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 the use of excessive force by the police 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, Ohana said, will have "zero tolerance to roadblocks."
Ashkenazi said that Haskel “has fully earned the right and obligation to say his opinion, to protest and demonstrate,” and condemned the fact that Haskel had had his hands and feet restrained, “reflect poorly on Israeli democracy.”
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.”
Meretz chairman MK Nitzan Horowitz accused Ohana of using the police “as a tool to suppress protests against Netanyahu and his family,” adding however that “freedom of expression and freedom of protest are foundational principles of democracy and the police is obligated to protect them."
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!"