Tensions high at Jerusalem protests as anti-protest incitement increases

Anti-Netanyahu protesters face barrages of missiles and verbal abuse on the streets

Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at Dizengoff Square Tel Aviv on October 10, 2020 (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at Dizengoff Square Tel Aviv on October 10, 2020
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
While the main "Balfour" protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s alleged mismanagement has been forcibly cleared from its main location next to his official residence in Jerusalem because of COVID-19 rules, demonstrators have begun to gather at other Jerusalem spots within a kilometer of their homes. But rather than feel safer, they face more intimidation and attacks.
Patt Junction is a focal point in the south of the city and is one of the most popular protest spots, where demonstrators said they were the object of attacks and abuse by people who oppose the protests against Netanyahu.
“It takes five minutes from the moment we arrive until eggs, cans and other objects are thrown at us,” said Eren Ben Yehuda, one of the protesters.
“There is a very threatening atmosphere during our entire protest, with cursing, calls for us to leave the neighborhood, that we aren’t Jewish, that we’re traitors,” he added.
Ben Yehuda said that about 20 people gathered around the group he had joined on Saturday, including children. Some of them stood and screamed to protest against the demonstration but others used violence and threw objects at them. Video footage from the scene showed objects being thrown into a crowd of socially distancing protesters who tried to avoid getting hit by the incoming missiles.
One of the most prominent issues that protesters reported was that there was almost no police response to the actions against them.
Ben Yehuda said that police had been called several times from the moment the violence at Patt Junction began, but that it took half an hour for officers to arrive, and even then, they did not stop the barrage of eggs and cans.
“The cop told me that if we feel threatened, we can move elsewhere (even though we already did), go home, or that I’m ‘a big boy’ and that I can figure it out,” Ben Yehuda said. “We got zero response [from the cops].”
Another protester, who asked not to be named, said that police were present at the protest group at Givat Massua Junction, but the men in blue did nothing, as passersby hurled verbal and physical abuse. When the police were asked to intervene, one officer asked the group opposed to the demonstrators to move away, but they ignored him, and he did not persist.
Tomer Cohen, who was at a demonstration in nearby Kiryat Yovel, said that there, too, opposers of the protest gathered round, accusing them of being “leftist traitors” and hurling verbal abuse. Those anti-protesters waved the flags of La Familia, the racist ultra-right wing supporters group of Beitar Jerusalem, who have a reputation for violent behavior. Many of the protesters found that alone to be a threat to their safety.
Still, other protesters felt that last Saturday’s protests were a “correction” of sorts to the negative experiences they had experienced in previous demonstrations.
Dina Fiman, who protested at Oranim Junction in Jerusalem, said police were present throughout the entire demonstration and that officers stood on the sidelines, keeping watch respectfully. Several of the usual anti-protest cries were heard, but mostly, police kept potential threats at a distance.
“It was a corrective experience in contrast to what we were subjected to last Thursday,” she said.
Nevertheless, protesters are accustomed to facing verbal abuse from outsiders. Idan Arvatz, the organizer of protest marches in Ramat Bet Hakerem, said police stayed with the marchers throughout their entire walk in the neighborhood, which passed by the home of Social Equality and Minorities Minister, Meirav Cohen, and of Likud MK Nir Barkat.
Arvatz nevertheless reported that there “are always comments of ‘only Bibi’ and a bunch of insults are shouted about our families.”
President Reuven Rivlin addressed the street confrontations in his speech on Monday, saying that “It is unthinkable that every night, demonstrators are beating demonstrators. Police are beating demonstrators.”
“Israel’s tribalism is seeping through the cracks and accusing fingers are pointed from one part of society to the other, one tribe at the other,” he continued.
“Stop. Please stop,” Rivlin pleaded.
On Tuesday, Rivlin apologized to the police, stating that his comments were taken out of context and that “the false madness that pervades social networks knows no bounds.”
Addressing the police directly, he said, “I will not let anyone harm my appreciation for you and for your great dedication.”