A second wave of social protests is kicking off in Israel, this time marred by violence on both sides.
Last summer, hundreds of thousands of Israelis joined the protests against the government’s social priorities and the tax-burden on the middle classes. The protests petered out after nearly two months following a large terror attack on the southern border and then the public euphoria over the release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit.
Ever since, the protest organisers have promised to return, accusing the government of not having acted to address their concerns.
On Friday, Daphne Leef, one of the leaders of last year’s protests, tried to recreate the initial act that sparked off the entire campaign, setting up a tent on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard along with 500 supporters.
However, police and municipal inspectors forcibly evicted Leef and arrested her along with 11 others.
The following night, thousands more gathered in central Tel Aviv and, at one stage, when the police announced that the demonstration was unauthorised and began dispersing them, violence broke out on both sides. Police violently arrested dozens, while some of the protesters attacked two banks on the Ibn Gevirol Boulevard.
Smaller protests were held in Jerusalem and Haifa. In Jerusalem, the demonstrators tried to sit on light-rail lines and were removed by police. Ms Leef accused the police of acting as if the protesters were “enemies of the people”.
On Tuesday, Israel Police Commissioner Yochanan Danino said that unlike last summer’s campaign, “this wasn’t a popular protest, but a planned series of illegal actions”. He added that the police has launched an internal investigation into claims of violence but that “we won’t allow freedom of expression to descend into chaos”.
Dozens of singers, writers, clubs and galleries in Tel Aviv have cancelled their participation in the “White Night” cultural festival, taking place on Thursday, in protest over the role played by the municipal inspectors.
Another wave of protests expected this summer are by the Charedi community, which is railing against the government committee that is scheduled to deliver recommendations next month on drafting yeshivah students into the IDF and national service. Thousands of Charedi men gathered in Mea Shearim for a prayer protest at 5am on Monday. Some of the organisers called on the government to “prepare space for tens of thousands in prison, because we will not give in”.