newsIsrael at War

‘Beyond acceptable protest’: Israeli officials slam violence in Jerusalem

Demonstrators breach a police cordon around the Prime Minister's Residence; Shin Bet director: Violence "could lead to dangerous places."

Police clash with demonstrators during an anti-government protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, April 2, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Police clash with demonstrators during an anti-government protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, April 2, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

Israeli officials from across the political spectrum on Wednesday criticized the previous night’s anti-government demonstration in Jerusalem in which protesters called to “burn down the country” and attempted to storm Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence.

“Unity is the key to our future. We cannot accept violence from any side. We cannot accept people ignoring police instructions and breaking through barriers,” said War Cabinet member Benny Gantz.

While describing the protests as “legitimate,” he emphasized that “the law and rules must be kept.”

Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Ronen Bar issued a rare warning, describing the incident as “beyond acceptable protest.”

“The violent discourse online and some of the scenes we saw in Jerusalem go beyond acceptable protest, harm the ability to maintain public order, could lead to violent clashes with law enforcement and cause harm to individuals,” said Bar.

“There is a clear line between legitimate and illegal protest. This worrying trend could lead to dangerous places,” he added.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir called on the Shin Bet to “wake up immediately and take seriously the security of the prime minister of Israel and his family.

“A situation where thousands of people break into the area of the Prime Minister’s Residence while the agency turns a blind eye is unacceptable,” Ben-Gvir said.

Police clash with demonstrators outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 2, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

The protest on Tuesday night began with thousands of people gathering outside the Knesset in a scene reminiscent of the demonstrations against the government’s now-shelved judicial reform initiative.

“My message is elections now,” former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, one of the main speakers at the rally, told JNS on Tuesday night.

“These demonstrations are to protest what is happening with the hostages, the draft law which the government is trying to pass [regarding ultra-Orthodox conscription] and the Knesset which instead of working when we have people [captive] in Gaza is [going to recess],” he added. 

Thousands of demonstrators released blue balloons into the sky calling for early elections, and were led by some hostages’ family members on a march to the main protest area. 

Relatives of hostage Itay Svirsky, who appeared in a Hamas propaganda video and was subsequently killed in captivity, and of hostage Matan Zangauker spoke on a large makeshift stage erected outside the Knesset building.

“We will keep chasing you until you give your place to someone who will return the hostages,” said Einav Zangauker, Matan’s mother. “We will burn down the country, we will make the earth shake, you will not have rest day or night,” she told the crowd, which chanted, “A deal now” and “Shame.”

Itay Svirsky’s cousin Na’ama Weinberg spoke with JNS as she descended from the stage together with Merav Svirsky, Itay’s sister, after the latter addressed the crowd. 

“We decided to come here today because we are half a year after the [Oct. 7 Hamas] attack and the hostages still have not returned,” said Weinberg.

“We now understand that the one who endangers the [ceasefire] deal [with Hamas] is the prime minister …, and if he cannot or does not want to conclude a deal and bring the hostages back, he must pass on his position to someone who can and will do it,” she continued. 

Zahiro Shahar-Mor, the nephew of hostage Avraham Munder, spoke to JNS inside a tent set up for hostage families behind the stage.

“We’ve had enough. For six months, the government did nothing but drag its feet,” said Shahar-Mor. “My uncle is 79 years old; every day that goes by his chances of getting back in a good state are getting slimmer and slimmer. We have no time for these delay tactics of negotiations.”

In an address to the nation on Sunday, Netanyahu rejected the suggestion that elections be held during the war, saying it would paralyze hostage negotiations and prevent the defeat of Hamas.

“The first who would welcome this is Hamas, and that says everything,” he said.

“I’m committed to bringing everyone back, all of our men and women, soldiers, civilians—I will not leave anyone behind. God willing, we will continue to work, continue to fight, and we will win together,” said Netanyahu.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told JNS on Monday that the government continues to believe that sustained military pressure against Hamas in Gaza is necessary to secure the release of the captives.

“We believe that pursuing the diplomatic avenue combined with heavy military pressure on Hamas is what worked best back in November and brought the release of [over 100] hostages [as part of a ceasefire agreement], and we are still pursuing these two paths,” the spokesperson said.

“Hamas’s outlandish demands show they are not serious about the negotiations; we are not going to cave to each and every one of their whims,” she added. “Obviously, there are no good solutions, only trade-offs, but we were willing to go to several lengths while Hamas has rejected any kind of U.S. proposal for a compromise so far.”

Thousands of anti-government protesters march on the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, April 2, 2024. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

After the main protest dispersed on Tuesday, some demonstrators broke through police cordons and marched on Netanyahu’s residence in the Rehavia neighborhood.

Many of the protesters, including Ayala Metzger, the daughter-in-law of captive Yoram Metzger, 80, were dragged away from the site by police.

Some of the families of Israelis being held by Hamas in Gaza joined forces over the weekend with anti-government protesters. Previously, they had held separate demonstrations in Tel Aviv’s “Hostage Square.”

“Hostages families have been waiting for six months and have received every threat possible and every promise, while coming to the conclusion that the Israeli government is not prioritizing their loved ones,” Ami Dror, one of the protest organizers, told JNS.

“The government is looking to stay in power for as long as they can while we have 19 women being raped daily [in Gaza]. We cannot wait,” Dror added.

However, not all of the families agree.

The Tikva Forum for Families of Hostages criticized calls to join the anti-government protests, arguing that politicizing the hostage issue could backfire.

The group is an alternative to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, the largest organization representing relatives of the captives.

“Political organizations making a lot of noise before October 7 and that were opposing the judicial reform and fighting against the government are now using a handful of hostage families for their own needs,” Shimon Or, one of some three dozen families from the Tikvah Forum, told JNS on Sunday.

His nephew Avinatan Or, 30, was kidnapped from the Supernova music festival along with his girlfriend, 26-year-old Noa Argamani, on Oct. 7. 

The father of an Israeli Defense Forces soldier killed in action in the Gaza Strip also denounced the protests, accusing demonstrators of using the plight of bereaved families and the relatives of hostages to further their political aims.

“I was completely shocked that people were speaking like this after Oct. 7. It felt like a second knock at my door. The first knock was the army coming to tell me that Yehonatan fell in battle in Gaza,” Hagay Lober, whose son Staff Sgt. (res.) Elisha Yehonatan Lober, 24, was killed in the southern Gaza Strip in December, told JNS on Tuesday.

“My main message is stop the madness. We will not burn things down. We will state our opinion calmly. I don’t agree with a lot of things but in times of war, I am there for my country and I send my kids to fight, like everyone else,” added Lober, who has three other children fighting in the Gaza Strip.

“Those we lost give us strength to do so. If our enemies think they can defeat us they will think again because we are strong. We are a great nation,” he said. 

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