Ahead of new demonstrations, Ben Gvir says he expects strict handling of unruly demonstrators

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Friday called on police to further crack down on anti-government protesters ahead of a weekly mass protest against the coalition’s attempt to overhaul the justice system.

Ben Gvir sent a letter to Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, asking the top officer to allow Tel Aviv police to deal strictly with protesters attempting to block roads.

“Freedom of speech is not a blank check for anarchy, harm and disruption of the lives of the country’s citizens,” Ben Gvir said in the letter. “Do not agree to the blocking of roads and major roads in advance without permission.”

“The disruption to the fabric of life must not be allowed because of the protests, and when they attack police officers or try to block central roads, you must strictly maintain public order,” said Ben Gvir.

Ben Gvir also emphasized that he, as Minister for National Security, has the final say on police operations.

“It is necessary to remember that the minister is the one who decides the policy, and not the commander in the field,” he said.

The far-right minister also praised police handling of protesters during Wednesday’s nationwide “Day of Disruption” protest events, expressing support for officers who were injured, without naming protesters who were injured.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset in Jerusalem, 5 February 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Police will send additional forces to the central protest areas this week, with around 1,000 officers in total for the main march in Tel Aviv, and will also deploy more resources to document the protesters to gather evidence that can be used for arrests, Kan public broadcaster reported. .

The police force was criticized this week for rough treatment of protesters in Tel Aviv, including for an officer who threw a stun grenade into a crowd.

Shabtai called the officer, Meir Suisa, a senior officer in the Tel Aviv district, to express his support. The Ministry of Justice’s internal investigation department in the police has opened an investigation into the incident. The grenade was one of dozens used by officers at the Tel Aviv demonstration, which drew tens of thousands.

Police said the protesters turned violent when officers tried to prevent them from continuing to block roads, forcing the use of more extreme measures. Protesters rejected the charge, insisting the police were the only ones to act violently in what led to the hospitalization of 11 protesters, including a man who needed surgery to reattach his ear after being hit by a stun grenade.

Dozens were arrested during the protest but later released.

The mass protests on Wednesday came as the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved for first reading in the Knesset plenary a government-backed bill that radically limits the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down legislation, amid opposition fury directed at committee chairman MK. Simcha Rothman for his management of the process.

Security personnel confront protesters opposed to the government’s judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Also on Friday, protesters gathered at the homes of several lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Environment Minister Idit Silman and MK Yuli Edelstein and Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet security service. His predecessor as Shin Bet chief, Carmi Gillon, was among the protesters outside his home.

The protesters called on the more moderate members of the coalition to oppose the judicial overhaul. Edelstein and Likud MK Danny Danon issued a joint statement on Wednesday with two lawmakers from the opposition National Unity party calling for compromise, in a rare moment of cooperation between the two sides.

“Gallant, Gallant, wake up. Our democracy is crashing,” chanted the protesters outside the defense minister’s home.

Dozens also gathered outside President Isaac Herzog’s private home in Tel Aviv to oppose his compromise proposal, saying it would lead to a “half democracy”.

Demonstrators clash with police during a protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Saturday night’s rallies will take place in around 95 locations across the country in the ninth straight week of protests. The main event departs from Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center at 6pm to march towards Kaplan Street.

Other protests will take place in Jerusalem, Ashdod, Haifa, Beersheba, Efrat, Netanya, Kfar Saba, Herzliya, Beit Shemesh and Bat Yam.

Police said they will close a number of streets in Tel Aviv from 5 p.m

The keynote speaker at the Tel Aviv protest will be former Likud minister Limor Livnat, and former labor minister Yuli Tamir will headline the Jerusalem protest outside the president’s official residence.

Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli will speak at the meeting in Haifa along with former Supreme Court judge Ayala Procaccia and former Meretz MK Gaby Lasky. Opposition leader Yair Lapid and retired judge Hila Gerstel will address the demonstration in Herzliya.

The weekly protests began shortly after Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced the proposals to limit Israel’s judiciary.

Critics say the proposed overhaul would weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances, and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters say reining in an activist court is a much-needed reform.

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