‘Soft gloves’ police treatment of Jewish protesters reveals Israeli racism

Philip Weiss

Mondoweiss  /  April 1, 2023

“In Israeli terms, very, very soft gloves were used on the protesters,” Israeli commenter Neri Zilber says. That’s because the protesters look like the security forces — unlike Palestinians.

As you know, in recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of predominantly-Jewish Israelis flooded into the streets to protest government plans, generating international pressure that forced the Israeli government to back down for now. And Israeli security responded with very little violence.

“There was a whole choreography to it, but in Israeli terms, very, very soft gloves were used on the protesters,” Israeli commentator Neri Zilber said this week– in stark contrast to the way Israeli police and security forces have responded to demonstrations by Palestinians and Palestinian citizens of Israel in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, and against demonstrations by orthodox Jews and Ethiopians.

“I can tell you, a lot of force can be and often is used by the Israeli police and security forces, and so it was a good thing that this wasn’t the case over the past three months,” Zilber, a journalist and Israel advocate, told an Israel lobby group’s podcast four days ago.

Shanie Reichman, an official of the Israel Policy Forum who was interviewing Zilber, pointed out that the double standard sounds like racism to an American ear– these are people who look like us — so how does Israel justify it. Zilber answered:

“I think it’s all those elements– that when the Israel police are deployed to tackle say more mainstream Israelis, they look at them and they see people who they might have served in various military units with, or people who they might have studied with, or people who they know from back home. And I heard this verbatim from one or two police officers…

“Number two, without doubt, how Arab Israelis and definitely Palestinians, whether in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, are dealt with and handled or engaged with is vastly different than how the Israel police engages with Israeli Jews in terms of law enforcement inside Israel– so again we have to be very clear about that.

“Number three and I guess this is more to the credit of the Israeli police, they use a level of force that they feel is necessary given the level of threat they perceive to them. So they won’t use this… level of quote unquote nonviolent means that they use against demonstrators and rioters. And the protesters on their part were very very clear from the very beginning up till literally today that violence should not be directed at the police. A, because again from the protesters point of view, these are our brothers as well. There were chants from the protesters, The police are our brothers, We’re here for you too…. And also, I heard this chanted verbatim from the protesters, we’re not going to give [Itamar] Ben Gvir and the government this picture. We are not going to engage and escalate violently with the police, because we don’t want to have Bibi Netanyahu and Ben Gvir and the others come out immediately and say we told you these guys are anarchists. They are seditionists and traitors. You shouldn’t take them seriously, you shouldn’t join their cause. So there was a very clear strategic rationale by the protesters to keep it nonviolent. And the police except for one exception, one Wednesday demonstration in Tel Aviv when they deployed stun grenades, other than that bad day in Tel Aviv– again relatively bad for Tel Aviv, relative to other demonstrations anywhere else in Israel, very kind of mild stuff– other than that one day the police reciprocated as well.”

So an Israel lobby group is bluntly acknowledging starkly different Israeli police standards for Israeli Jews and Palestinians who protest. It sure sounds like apartheid to me!

Zilber is soft-peddling the security forces’ violence. When Palestinians launched nonviolent protests in Gaza in 2018, more than 260 were killed by snipers (lethal force justified by the Supreme Court that the Israeli protesters exalt as a democratic institution). This is hardly “quote-unquote nonviolent police means,” as Zilber characterizes the treatment of Palestinian protesters.

Asked if the Israeli demonstrators blocked highways — forcing police to engage — Zilber explained that the Tel Aviv demonstrations did just that.

There were some road closures in Jerusalem but nothing to the extent of the battle for the Ayalon highway, which became this symbol. Basically how can we break though the police lines and barriers and get to the Ayalon. for a while this Seemed like the be all and end all for the protesters. But again that was a kind of rationale to that. Essentially Disrupting life and forcing the police to emngage, . and having those images broadcast to the wider country. It was important…

Again, I’d point out that Palestinians regularly seek to close highways, for the symbolic and disruptive value of the action — and are shot for doing so. Remember the killings of two teenagers in Beitunia in 2014. Palestinians were trying to shut down the road to Ofer prison. Michael Oren said on CNN that the Palestinians had faked the deaths.

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006