Israeli police trying to enforce coronavirus lockdown regulations clashed violently with ultra-Orthodox Jews in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak on Sunday night.
Police tried to break up hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at a synagogue, and scuffles erupted as they tried to drag away those who refused to disperse. Footage showed a policeman chasing a man into a building.
Another policeman was filmed throwing a bucket at a teenager, after stones were thrown at the forces in the crowded ultra-Orthodox area.
At first 13, and then late another four, ultra-Orthodox protesters were arrested, police said.
Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai meanwhile charged that “the police are being turned into a political tool” by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“This is not enforcing the coronavirus law. This is crushing the demonstrations,” he told Channel 12 television, referring to confrontations during protests in central Tel Aviv the previous night.
The demonstrations in Tel Aviv were at first peaceful, with most keeping social distancing and wearing masks, he said.
“Suddenly someone gave an order – I saw it – to undercover policemen within the crowd to start dragging people away.”
Police said they arrested 38 people, most of them in Tel Aviv, during Saturday night’s protests on squares and junctions throughout Israel against the “failed” rule of the “corrupt” Netanyahu.
They expressed outrage at a contentious ban pushed through by Netanyahu on the democratic right to demonstrate beyond a 1-kilometer radius of their homes.
Since June, thousands and tens of thousands have gathered every Saturday night, mostly outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Now barred from travelling, scores gathered in their hometown centres throughout Israel instead.
The protesters demand that Netanyahu step down until he proves his innocence in the corruption trial that started against him in May.
They also condemn his handling of the second wave of the pandemic. Israel on Wednesday reached yet another record high – over 9,000 – for coronavirus infections in one day, despite being almost two weeks into a nationwide lockdown.
The country of 9.2 million inhabitants now has a total death toll of 1,707. Under 900 patients with Covid-19 are defined as in serious condition, of whom 215 need help breathing.
Netanyahu has argued that a second lockdown was inescapable. It took effect on September 18, the start of the three-week Jewish holiday season that began with the Jewish New Year.
The season ends on October 10 with Simchat Torah, which marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of public Torah or Bible readings and the beginning of a new cycle. But his cabinet has voted to extend the lockdown by another four days and is expected to extend it yet again.
The protesters charge that Netanyahu acts out of a conflict of interest and seeks to curb the protests not because they are in his words “coronavirus breeding grounds,” but because he wants to survive politically despite the trial against him.