Speaking at a conference of the Finance Ministry's Accountant-General's Office on Tuesday, Police Commissioner Insp. Gen. Yochanan Danino said violent protests that took place last Saturday night were in stark contrast to protests held last summer. According to Danino "The latest protests were preplanned violations of the law and we mustn't let the freedom to demonstrate drift into anarchy."
Danino said the events on Saturday night occurred because protest leaders decided to violate the law and demonstrate without coordinating their actions with police. "Last year there were hundreds of events and hundreds of thousands of protesters. They all transpired peacefully, without the use of force, due to the protesters' maturity and prior coordination with police. This was not the case over the weekend. They told us explicitly that they will demonstrate illegally and do not want to coordinate their events with police," he said.
More than 80 protesters were arrested Saturday night after clashing with officers and vandalizing banks in Tel Aviv, in what was the latest effort to relaunch the social justice movement that mobilized an unprecedented number of Israelis against social inequalities last summer.
The demonstrators had gathered Saturday night to protest the arrest of 12 social activists a day earlier. Some blocked main roads and scuffled with police. Police say others shattered the windows on five banks.
Israeli media reported that in one case, protesters charged inside a bank and set up a tent, the symbol of social protests that swept the country last summer.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police made the arrests to prevent looting. He estimated there were 1,500 demonstrators in the protests, though media reports gave a number four times higher. In one video, a police officer was caught on tape pushing and strangling a demonstrator.
Activist leader Daphni Leef accused police of brutality, saying officers bruised and humiliated her when they detained her Friday. She was released on bail.
Danino expressed disappointment with the protest leaders and said "What happened was not honorable. That was not a popular protest, but a premeditated violation of the law, the purpose of which was to escalate the protests at any price. And the price was indeed heavy."
The police commissioner rejected allegations of excessive use of force by policemen during the demonstrations. "They are accusing us [of using excessive force], but there was no such thing. We are obligated to safeguard the right to protest, but that right does not include harming others and their property. I am not trying to ignore the severe images published. The police is capable of investigating itself. If excessive force was employed, we will deal with it," Danino said.
Visiting a forward police command station in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch denied he or anyone else instructed police to block the protests on Saturday night. "That is nonsense. There is no order from above to stop the demonstrations. A minister does not instruct the police or any other law-enforcement body how to handle a situation. There is a separation of branches . Within the framework of demonstrations, however, we will not permit disorderly conduct. We must all abide by the law and order," Aharonovitch said.
In response to police denial of forcefully quelling the demonstrations, protest leader Stav Shafir said at a conference at the University of Haifa, "We were very busy and operated throughout the country even during the winter, and when they saw that we did not intend to be silent they decided to shut us up forcefully."
At the conference — the theme of which was "Social protests one year on" — Shafir was constantly at odds with Dr. Avi Simchon, an adviser to Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and a member of the Trajtenberg Committee, which was set up last year by the government to address the wave of socio-economic protests that swept the country.
Simchon insisted that the government had done a lot to bridge socio-economic gaps and that many of the protester's claims were not justified.
Commenting on the weekend's events, Shafir said "What we witnessed this week was a spontaneous eruption of protest, not only related to our social reality but even to our right to protest. It concerned the very definition of democracy."
When asked about upcoming protest events, Shafir said the idea is to continue operating throughout the country and encourage more people to take responsibility and bring about change. "Even after half a million people took to the streets, nothing has changed," she said.
Meanwhile, one year after the first social protest tents were set up on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, the tents returned to Tel Aviv, but at a different location. Several people set up tents in Volovski Park adjacent to the central train station in south Tel Aviv. The tents are expected to be used by protesters involved in various causes, some of whom participated in last summer's demonstrations, including members of the "The Camp of Suckers" protesting the non-inclusion of ultra-Orthodox into the army, as well as those who have protested against the high cost of living and "cottage cheese protest" leader Itzik Alrov.
A Tel Aviv municipality spokesman said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai suggested that tents be set up in the park instead of on Rothschild Boulevard where they were set up last year, due to complaints by residents in the area.
The demonstrations continued on Tuesday. Several people demonstrated at the Tel Aviv municipality against what they claimed was violence by city inspectors and policemen over the weekend. Protester leaders said the demonstrations would not abate in the coming days and a large event is scheduled to take place on Saturday night at the Tel Aviv Museum Plaza in anticipation of upcoming government debates concerning the national budget.
According to one protest leader, "The Prime Minister and Finance Minister are personally responsible for the widening of the social gaps."
Small demonstrations are scheduled to take place on Wednesday at the Knesset in Jerusalem and the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv against business tycoons and the concentration of wealth. Protesters also intend to disrupt “White Night” festival events in Tel Aviv on Thursday, although some aspects of the protest planned for Thursday have been cancelled.
A Tel Aviv municipality spokesman denounced the popular Israeli rock, folk and oriental band called the "The Giraffes" for boycotting the White Night events and said its decision was strange considering the fact that it was not invited to perform during the festival. Other famous Israeli artists, including writer Etgar Keret, have announced they are boycotting the municipality's event, and instead establishing their own "Black Night" in protest.
In a move that revealed tension within the Tel Aviv municipality, Deputy Mayor Meital Lehavi (Meretz) announced her resignation from Huldai's coalition on Tuesday in light of the latest events in the city.