JERUSALEM, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Israel’s hard-right national security minister on Wednesday said he supported police in their handling of anti-government protests and that investigations into alleged police violence were “puzzling.”
A push by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition to overhaul the judiciary and limit some Supreme Court powers has caused deep divides in Israeli society while igniting months of massive street protests.
The demonstrations can draw tens of thousands of people and crowds often block highways and scuffle with police. Protesters have circulated videos, some carried by local media, in which police officers apparently use heavy-handed tactics to disperse the crowds.
The Department of Internal Police Investigations has been examining the issue.
On Wednesday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, a hardline Jewish settler in the West Bank with past convictions for support for terrorism and incitement against Arabs, met with officers of an elite police unit and said the footage he saw from protests shows them using “reasonable force.”
He told the officers not to be deterred by police investigators, whose conduct he described as “puzzling.”
The remarks were swiftly rebuked by Israel’s State Attorney’s office, which oversees the internal affairs unit.
The office issued a statement to the media saying it rejects efforts to defame the investigators and that the law enforcement system would continue to act “in accordance with the law, without fear and without bias.”
Later on Wednesday, thousands of protesters marched along a main drag in Tel Aviv, carrying Israeli flags and calling for an end to the judicial overhaul.
Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges that he denies, has cast the judicial changes as a redressing of balance among branches of government. Critics say they endanger democracy and open the door to corruption.
Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Rami Amichay
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