Kristine L Ming

Anti-Netanyahu demo leaders released, opposition claims police overreach

Left-wing lawmakers came out against police moves to curb demonstrations calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be indicted, as the protests’ leaders were released Sunday, after a night in jail in Petah Tikva.

The Petah Tikva Magistrates court released disgruntled former Prime Minister’s Residence superintendent Meni Naftali and anti-corruption activist and failed Labor Knesset candidate Eldad Yaniv on the sole condition that they will no longer call for the public to gather for an illegal protest  via social media or by any other means.

Yaniv and Naftali had called on their Facebook pages for people to protest Saturday night, even though the police had revoked the permit the demonstrations had received for the previous 38 weeks. Despite police roadblocks, an estimated 2,000 people rallied near Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblits’ home.

They were not required to post bail or stay out of Petah Tikva, the location of the protests, and therefore presented the ruling as a victory.

A police spokeswoman told Army Radio that the protests were stopped because they “lost all proportion. It’s paradoxical to protest for the law, when you yourself are breaking the law. The repeated protests across from the Attorney-General’s house are unfair and inappropriate pressure.”

On Sunday afternoon, Naftali announced on Facebook that his application to establish a non-profit organization was approved, and implored the pubic to donate so he can continue “fighting more and more against corruption in this country” and to help whistle-blowers, as he calls himself.

“The war on corruption is for all of us, and for our children and future generations. The time has come to say ‘enough is enough,’ until justice comes to light,” Naftali wrote.

Naftali organized the protests from the start, but its public faces are an informal coalition of people who organized demonstrations against Netanyahu in the past. Some of the prominent members are Daphne Leef of 2011 housing protests fame, Orly Bar-Lev, a leader of the 2015 natural gas protests, and Tomer Avital, the transparency crusader and blogger, who famously uncovered the Prime Minister’s Residence’s NIS 10,000 ice cream budget. Lawmakers from opposition parties also made appearances at the rallies.

Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On said that the police was acting like “the private force of the system’s corrupt members. Instead of fighting corruption, it prevented a protest against it.”

Gal-On said there was no legal basis for Naftali and Yaniv’s arrest, nor for their roadblocks on the way to the site of the protests.

Zionist Union lawmaker Miki Rosenthal quipped on twitter that people once mocked former Bnei Yehuda soccer team chairman Chaim Barzel for saying “it cannot be that the police will take the law into its own hands,” adding: “Today that sounds slightly less crazy.”

According to Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson, “there is a clear connection between the Likud’s dealings with the demonstrations in Petah Tikva and the police’s violent takeover of the protest.”

“There has been an intervention in the police, turning it into the political police,” Hasson added. “It’s important to remind everyone who forgot: Israel is a democratic state and demonstrations are allowed. Netanyahu and his messengers are creating a false impression as thought demonstrations are illegal, and that is the real danger to Israeli democracy.”

Likud MK David Amsalem said: “My only discomfort with Meni Naftali and Eldad Yaniv’s arrest is that it didn’t happen a year ago.”

“Is the next stage protesting next to judges’ homes?” Amsalem asked on Israel Radio. “We need to check who is funding these demonstrations.”

The Likud wrote a lengthy post on its official Facebook page characterizing Naftali as a liar and a criminal.

“Anyone who looks at declarations and documents submitted several months ago to the Magistrate’s Court in Herzliya finds that this is a man who makes false statements and committed several crimes,” the post reads, listing falsehoods and omissions he allegedly made, such as alleging he finished high school when he didn’t, and changing his story as to why he stopped working in he Residence several times.

The Likud also implied that Naftali stole food and cleaning supplies from the Residence, mentioned a complaint of sexual harassment by a woman who worked at the Residence, and said he was fired from a past job because of physical violence.

Bayit Yehudi lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich claimed discrimination against right-wing protesters.

“For years right-wing activists have been kept away [from the scene of their actions] with the backing of the courts all the time, and no one opened their mouth or complained. Good thing there are left-wing activists in the world so that the courts will remember human rights,” Smotrich tweeted.

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