Police in metropolitan Tel Aviv are refusing to authorize a planned protest march in the largely Orthodox city of Bnei Brak by a secularist group called Forum for Equality of Burden, which advocates ending the automatic draft exemption for Haredi yeshiva students. Ynet reports that the forum announced plans to march through downtown Bnei Brak this coming Thursday, wearing their army uniforms and carrying Israeli flags.
Police reportedly told the forum that Bnei Brak residents have heard about the planned march and are afraid it will lead to violence. Forum chair Miri Baron told Ynet that she had been heard there were threats of violence against her group.
One member of the group told Ynet that his group wants the same treatment that police gave to Kahane-linked rightists Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir in 2008 when they marched through the Arab town of Umm el-Fahm under heavy police protection. The government had sought to block that march on grounds that it would incite violence, pointing to a list of past incidents in which Marzel and Ben-Gvir had staged provocative protests leading to riots.
But the Supreme Court overruled the government and ordered the police to authorize the march and provide security.
Ironically, Ben-Gvir argued in the court hearing at that time that right-wing activists deserved to received the same treatment as left-wingers. He also argued that the court should not let permit the state to be cowed by threats of violence. (The march took place amid heavy police protection and resulted in rioting in which several police were hospitalized.)
In a separate development that I’m sure is totally unrelated, police in Jerusalem over the past year have arrested dozens of left-wing demonstrators protesting against Jewish settlers moving into the mostly-Arab Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, despite repeated court rulings that the arrests were an illegal violation of the demonstrators’ rights.
Marzel and Ben-Gvir were back in court at the end of July 2010 seeking permission to stage another march through Umm el-Fahm, this time to protest the endorsement by Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah of last May’s Turkish flotilla. The state again objected, this time with the backing of the Shin Bet security service, noting that the rightists’ 2008 march had led to violence as predicted, and warning that the new march might result in deaths. The high court again approved the march, but only after ordering the police and the marchers to find a compromise. The deal that the court approved moves the march from its planned route, directly in front of the Islamic Movement’s offices, to another part of the city.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).