Israeli security minister defends police handling of judicial reform protesters

Netanyahu says the aim of the changes is to restore balance among branches of government


Anti-judicial overhaul demonstrators protest against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ????? ?????? ?????? ????? ????? ????? ???? ???? ??????? ?? ????

Israel's security minister has defended police handling of resurgent demonstrations against government plans to overhaul the justice system.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv earlier this week as the Knesset voted through the Reasonableness Standard Bill in a stage one vote.

The bill aims to scrap the "reasonability" clause, through which the judiciary can strike down government decisions. Opponents of the bill say it endangers Israeli democracy.

Dozens of protesters were arrested on Tuesday, said police, who used water cannons and deployed mounted officers to disperse demonstrators in Israel's commercial capital.

But protesters have criticised the police for alleged violent action in dispersing the protests.

Footage shared by Channel 12 shows a police officer punching a protester in the head as crowds were controlled. Footage also revealed officers on horseback riding into crowds of demonstrators, and one video shows a mounted officer trampling a protester.

Josh Drill, a spokesperson for the national protest movement, told the JC that “recent alarming incidents of brutal police violence, marked by the egregious use of excessive force have cast grave doubts on the preservation of our democratic rights”. 

Drill placed blame on Itamar Ben-Gvir and claimed his “inflammatory rhetoric" had "directly fuelled this urge in abhorrent police brutality." He added: "The blood is on his hands”.

However, the security minister denied he had seen any violence and added to Channel 12: â€śI didn’t see any police violence but the use of reasonable force against lawbreakers who attacked police, broke the law, blocked and prevented emergency vehicles and ambulances from getting to hospital."

Israeli Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai similarly denied charges of excessive force.

In a televised statement, he thanked the officers for working “to safeguard the right to protest” while “balancing the freedom to protest” with the “freedom of movement”.

Meanwhile, 2000 protesters in Be'er Sheva, who had been blocking the entrance to the city via the main intersection, were peacefully dispersed.

One protester told the Times of Israel that the police were cooperating with protest leaders. “There hasn’t been any violence here,” he said.

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