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Opposition demands to dismiss Knesset deputy speaker after he calls violent protesters ‘arm of Hamas’

9 protesters arrested, 3 hospitalized after clashes with police in Jerusalem

Israelis protest and clash with police during a protest against the current government and call for early elections, outside the Prime Minister's Official residence in Jerusalem, on June 17, 2024 (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90).

After an Israeli protest against the government turned violent on Monday evening, opposition leaders demanded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismiss the Knesset deputy speaker for calling the protesters an “arm of Hamas.”

Nissim Vaturi, the deputy speaker and Knesset Member of the Likud Party, told Kol Barama Radio that “there are a few branches of Hamas – the fighting branch of wicked terrorists who murder children, and the branch of the protests,” adding that people who loved their country wouldn’t protest in a violent way that only benefited Hamas.

He later claimed that his words were taken out of context and noted that captured terrorists had told Israeli investigators they were encouraged by the demonstrations to attack Israel.

“The horrible actions of the Nazi Hamas do not deserve to be compared to any protest or actions of one political party or another,” Vaturi added on 𝕏.

Nevertheless, both National Unity party chair Benny Gantz and opposition Leader Yair Lapid demanded Vaturi be demoted for his comments.

“The deputy speaker of the Knesset proved again this morning that he has no understanding or respect for democracy,” wrote Gantz, calling on Netanyahu to replace him with “a dignified figure.”

Lapid concurred, emphasizing that “the demonstrators are IDF soldiers and officers, they are the Israeli economy, they are teachers and doctors, they are Zionism in its embodiment.”

“Nissim Vaturi, on the other hand, is a man full of hatred whose inflammatory words are used by Israel’s enemies in a lawsuit in The Hague,” Lapid said, adding that the Likud won’t fire him “because this government has decided to dismantle the State of Israel. Vaturi is just the symptom.”

Vaturi later apologized, saying he was, himself, shocked when he heard his comments later on.

"They way the comments sounded, they were inappropriate. I meant something else entirely and this is how it came out. I am sorry about that, and I don't think it's at all appropriate that someone is similar to Hamas."

"My opinion about the protests... is that sometimes, it hurts the efforts to return the hostages, that's my personal opinion," Vaturi added.

Some tens of thousands of Israelis peacefully protested in front of the Knesset building in Jerusalem on Monday evening, calling to dissolve the government and secure a hostage deal with Hamas.

Among the main speakers was Shikma Bresler, a left-wing activist who gained some popularity as one of the leaders of the anti-judicial reform protests before the war.

During her speech, she insinuated that Netanyahu rejoiced at the death of Israeli soldiers because it benefited him politically, referring to footage showing the prime minister smiling at a Knesset vote held shortly after eight IDF soldiers died in the Gaza Strip.

“On Saturday we all heard Eisenkot saying explicitly that the Prime Minister is controlled by Kahanists and is not doing everything he can to free them. This abandonment, this moral disgrace, accompanies us every day, hour by hour,” Bresler said.

Some of the demonstrators then marched to the Prime Minister’s Residence several kilometers away, where violent clashes broke out with police forces who tried to maintain a perimeter around the residence.

In the subsequent clashes, the police used a water cannon, which injured three protesters who had to be taken to the hospital. The police also arrested nine people during the clashes.

Protest organizers accused the police of using excessive force, with footage showing police officers dragging protesters by the neck, grabbing them by the hair, and slamming them to the ground.

Dr. Tal Weissbach, a volunteer doctor, was hit in the face by the police’s water cannon, sustaining injuries that put her eyesight at risk, according to the White Coats activist group. Mirsham, an organization of medical residents in Israel, called for a legal investigation into the incident.

In response to the accusations, the police stated it “takes a serious view of the disturbance of order and the violent riot that took place last night on Gaza Street and included the setting of a fire in the street, physical confrontations with police officers, including assaulting police officers in several cases, as well as attempts to break through police barriers in the direction of the Prime Minister’s private residence, contrary to the provisions of the law.”

“All this happened after hours of the police allowing freedom of the protest and the pre-arranged marches and securing them. Freedom of expression is not the freedom to light fires, it doesn’t permit breaking through police barriers, allow attacking police officers, and doesn’t legitimize making the residents of the area miserable late at night with smoke, loud noise and unrestrained rioting carried out in violation of the law.”

Regarding one of the incidents caught on tape, the police stated, “There was an attack on a police officer at the scene shortly before, and the suspect filmed in the video attacked a police officer, trying to knock him to the floor and bite his leg, so he was arrested for assaulting police officers. The act even wounded the police officer.”

“At the same time, we note that if there are any complaints against any of the police officers who acted last night at the scene, they should be referred to the authorized authorities as is customary,” the police stated.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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