Israelis defy authorities and fight for right to protest against corruption

Israeli anti-corruption protesters - Aug 2017
Marianne Azizi writes:

For 40 weeks now, Israelis have been demonstrating in the city of Petach Tikvah to demand a thorough investigation into corruption, especially concerning the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

The protests started in earnest in July 2016 outside the home of the attorney-general, Avichai Mandelblit. At that time, they consisted of a handful of protesters demanding that he does a better job than his predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein, especially in regard to attorney Ruth David, who has been accused of a number of crimes.

Since then, matters have developed and taken a different turn. A few weeks ago, Manny Naftali, a former employee of the Netanyahu household who had become a whistleblower, joined one of the anti-corruption protests and was brutally attacked by the police, who broke his arm.

He wasn’t the first. Many other protesters have been hurt, week after week, in unprovoked attacks by the police. Since Mr Naftali won a case against the Netanyahu family for abuse, he has suffered many threats and false claims.

Meanwhile, the anti-corruption protesters have grown from a few hundred to many thousands. They have also become politicised, focusing more on Netanyahu than the deep-rooted corruption in all aspects of Israeli public life.

As a result, and completely illegally, last week the police decided that all protests in Petach Tikvah would be deemed illegal. The city is now under siege, with police officers at every corner. Two activists were arrested – Eldad Yaniv and – yet again – Manny Naftali, in separate incidents on their way to the city. They were held in detention for refusing to pay a penalty and accepting a restraining order. Thousands gathered outside the police station to demand their immediate release. After they were released, a legal bid was made to continue the lawful protests. The judge could not decide, even at the Supreme Court, and made an interim decision that only 500 people would be allowed into the city to protest.

On 26 August the police set up roadblocks, stopping cars, noting the drivers’ identity card numbers and asking them about their intentions.

While protests were also taking part in 16 other cities across Israel, the protesters worked their way around the decision to restrict their numbers by standing in a different spot to the usual place in which they had congregated.

Medina mishtara (Hebrew for police state) rang through the air as protesters chanted over and over again. Their focus was on just one issue: the right to democratic protest and free speech.

“It is unbelievable that the police can decide how many people are allowed to enter a city,” said one demonstrator. “We are living in a police state, [and the police] think they can apply martial law just because they want to. Or perhaps they were instructed by the government.”

There is little mention of the weekly protests in mainstream Israeli or international media. However, the list of public officials and ministers under investigation for corruption is growing, and it is possible that another social protest similar to that of 2011 is brewing. Since then, nothing has improved – not only are prices higher than ever as the OECD recently reported, but corruption is now overt and out of control, as many protesters will testify.

Freedom of speech is at risk. On 30 August a Supreme Court judge will decide if the democratic right to freedom of speech will be upheld in Israel. But the question must be this: why should this have to reach the Supreme Court at all?

And are the supporters of Israel even aware of the fight for democracy and civil and human rights? Or are they wallowing in blissful ignorance, believing that all is well in the Garden of Eden?

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