Activists trying to rekindle last summer’s social protests across Israel clashed with police over the weekend after a violent outburst by demonstrators that was in contrast to last year’s largely peaceful demonstrations protesting the high cost of living in the country.
The Times of Israel reported on the Saturday night events reminiscent of some of the more anarchical scenes of Occupy Wall Street protests:
Police arrested 85 people in the overnight hours between Saturday and Sunday as a protest in support of social activists in Tel Aviv turned violent.
Bank branches were broken into, eggs were thrown and roads were blocked as an estimated 3,000 people massed in central Tel Aviv Saturday night to to protest perceived police brutality against demonstrators Friday evening.
Tent-carrying protesters smashed windows in a branch of Bank Leumi near Rabin Square and in a nearby branch of Bank Hapoalim, according to media reports. Demonstrators also reportedly attempted to break into a branch of Discount Bank and threw eggs at City Hall, adjacent to Rabin Square.
At one point, activists blocked the main Ayalon highway that courses north to south through Tel Aviv and Ibn Gvirol, a main road in the city. In the video below, one protester waves a red flag while the group chants in Hebrew, "We've returned to the streets":
Yarkon Subdistrict Police Commander Yoram Ohayon denied to Ynet News protester claims that police used excessive force:
"We have to enforce the law," he continued. "Protests are legitimate and we will allow them as long as they are held within the law. If we didn’t initiate arrests we would have seen looting as well. The rioters crossed every possible red line. I couldn’t believe this could happen in Israel. We were very close to seeing the harsh sights we see in violent rallies overseas, here."
Vandals also threw knocked over garbage cans, according to media reports.
Police commandeered a Dan bus to transport all the arrested activists.
“They crossed every red line,” Tel Aviv police chief Aharon Axel said. “We won’t allow this to devolve into violence.”
Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich who supports the protests criticized the police response:
“Despite the fact that Public Security Minister [Yitzhak] Aharonovitch told me clearly in the Knesset that there was no order from on high to take harsh steps against the movement's protesters, it turns out that the government and its operational branches have decided not to enable the existence of democratic protests this summer,” she noted.
The Saturday night spree was prompted by the Friday arrest of Daphni Leef, a leader of the protest movement, along with 11 other activists. This after they tried to erect tents without permits along Rothschild Boulevard, a key symbol of last year’s protests.
Ynet opinion columnist Yoaz Hendel cautioned protesters not to fall into the trap of anarchy:
Some of the organizer’s [sic] of Israel’s social protest are angry now, and possibly despaired. The summer has arrived yet the people demand to stay at home with their air-conditioners. Only small numbers of people hit the streets in the recent events organized by protest inheritors. Only few showed interest.
And if that was not enough, Tel Aviv City Hall officials decided that they will not be hosting yet another Woodstock in the city’s Rothschild Boulevard. Even the media did not go out of its way to cover the intentions to re-launch the social justice protest in Tel Aviv.
The above is enough to justify the grim feelings of protestors, yet it is very far from constituting a permit for reckless rioting.
Social activists have tried on several occasions without success this spring to bring out the masses as they did last summer when hundreds of thousands answered the call, demanding subsidized housing, free preschool education and other increased social entitlements.
The largest rally brought out 350,000, a staggering number considering the total population of Israel is less than 8 million. Then, the social protesters met with a modicum of success when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government enacted several reforms including free education from age three.