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Israel judicial crisis: Far-right mob attack 'leftist' drivers

Pro-government activists burned tyres, threw stones at passing cars and forced drivers to voice support for 'Bibi'
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan rally near the parliament in Jerusalem, 27 March 2023 (AP)
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul plan rally near the parliament in Jerusalem, 27 March 2023 (AP)

Pro-government mobs in Israel blocked the entrances to two small towns in the north of the country, demanding drivers voice support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if they wanted to pass.

Late on Monday evening, dozens of far-right activists blocked a crossroads that leads to the Kibbutz towns of Ein Harod and Tel Yosef in northern Israel.

Haaretz revealed that the activists burned tyres at the towns' entrances, threw eggs and stones at passing cars, shaking them, spitting at passengers and cursing them.

Kibbutz residents are viewed as politically left-wing, and the far-right activists believe them to be opposed to Netanyahu's controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary.

The pro-government activists live-streamed their harassment and intimidation of drivers returning to their communities on TikTok.

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However, they allowed drivers in the city of Beit She'an, a bastion of Netanyahu's Likud party and religious residents, to pass through the roadblocks, amid cheers.

The far-right activists derided the trapped drivers from the Kibbutz communities as "leftist" and called some of them "homo" - a homophobic slur - and mocked them as they surrounded their vehicles.

'Ben-Gvir, the manliest'

One of the activists told a driver they were blocking the road in response to anti-Netanyahu protesters who had blocked the Ayalon Highway, a major intracity freeway in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

"Just like you all blocked the Ayalon, that’s what you’re going to feel now. Get it?" the activist said.

Another demanded a driver voice his support for far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Netanyahu, using the prime minister's nickname, "Bibi".

'They started to gather around the car, knocking on the windows, some of them with rocks in their hands'

Anonymous car driver

"There’s nothing you can do, leftists can’t go up. Say that Bibi is the man, that you’re crazy about Bibi and Ben-Gvir, and you’ll be allowed to go home," the activist told an elderly driver.

"Say Bibi is the prime minister and I support the reforms and Ben-Gvir is the national security minister, the manliest who has ever existed in the country."

Haaretz identified one of the activists as Itzik Zarka from the Likud party, who maintains a connection to the Netanyahu family.

'Enemies who want to kill him'

Another driver was blocked on his way home from a basketball game with his seven-year-old son, who was terrified by the mob.

"They were burning a tyre in the middle of the road, putting big rocks on the road, and started to gather around the car, knocking on the windows, some of them with rocks in their hands," the man told Haaretz.

He added that his son "got hysterical and started crying and asking what they want from us, what we had done, that we’re good people".

The father and son eventually left the car and called the police, but said that police officers who arrived at the scene remained idle and did not take any action.

"I tried to talk to them, and nothing. They [protesters] hurled insults at me for being a leftist kibbutznik and said that they would only let me pass if I said I support Bibi," he said. 

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He was beaten with fists and elbows as he made his way out of the crowd. He then found a police officer who returned with him and asked the mob to clear the rocks and open the road.

"I’m mostly worried about my son. He says that he doesn’t want to live here; he feels that he lives with enemies around who want to kill him," he said.

Israel Police said in a statement that three people were arrested over the incident.

"Police will continue to allow for freedom of expression and protest in accordance with the law, and will keep public order," the police said in a statement.

The blockade of two Israeli communities by far-right mobs was part of a string of events that started on Monday evening, when pro-government activists called for mass protests in Jerusalem.

Far-right individuals attacked two Palestinians, a passerby and a taxi driver in Jerusalem, who drove away from the scene.

Yossi Eli, an Israeli reporter for Channel 13, was also attacked by far-right activists and was left with a broken rib and damage to his spleen. Avi Cashman, a cameraman, sustained a head injury.

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