Court Releases Anti-Netanyahu Activist After Arrest

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -
A protest calling on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to quit, at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv in May. (Miriam Alster/Flash90, File)

A Yerushalayim court early on Sunday ordered the release of a leading activist opposed to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s rule and whose arrest prompted hundreds to protest outside the prime minister’s residence.

Retired Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel has been a leader of the protest movement against Netanyahu, demanding that he step down while facing charges. Haskel and several others were detained on Friday in what police said was an “illegal” demonstration because the protesters blocked roads.

Haskel, a former top Israeli air force general, has become a symbol of the protest movement that opposes Netanyahu’s rule. Demonstrations have been held regularly around the country, with protesters waving signs reading “crime minister” and calling for Netanyahu to resign.

The arrests drew angry denunciations from prominent Israelis and sent hundreds out to protest outside Netanyahu’s residence on Motzoei Shabbos.

Police said they offered to release Haskel and others if they agreed to refrain from returning to the scene of the protests. Haskel and two others refused.

Gabi Lasky, the lawyer representing Haskel, told Army Radio that the court eventually released him without conditions, saying protesting was the foundation of democracy.

The country’s acting police chief said the force would learn a lesson from the incident.

“The role of the police is to allow freedom of expression and demonstration to every person and to keep the public peace and security, this regardless of the protest’s subject, the identity of the protesters or their opinions,” acting commissioner Motti Cohen said.

Tensions were still evident at Sunday’s weekly Cabinet meeting when Benny Gantz, the defense minister and alternate prime minister, noted Haskel’s arrest and said the right to protest was a “sacred right.”

Netanyahu, seated alongside him, retorted that the right to protest was never in question and that Israel allowed it even amid the most restrictive of times during the recent coronavirus outbreak.

“The argument that [we] are looking to limit it is absurd and has no place,” he said. “ At the same time, the laws and regulations of the state of Israel must be maintained. It is not the prerogative of one side to say they support the rule of law and then to trample it.”