OpinionThe violent arrest of a high-tech entrepreneur: Another step in the erosion of Israeli democracy
The violent arrest of a high-tech entrepreneur: Another step in the erosion of Israeli democracy
The ongoing conflict within Israeli society highlights how the government is gradually yet consistently eroding democracy. This erosion is not limited to the so-called “legal overhaul” alone; the government is also employing tactics reminiscent of dictatorial regimes to suppress citizens' protests against it
One of Israel's most pressing social concerns today revolves around police violence aimed at protesters participating in demonstrations against the government's attempts to implement a judicial coup through legal reforms. For over thirty consecutive weeks, widespread protests have taken place across Israel, featuring participation from tens and hundreds of thousands of people. These protests remain nonviolent and occur with the coordination and approval of law enforcement agencies responsible for maintaining public order, all within the confines of the law. As the government becomes increasingly committed to enacting legislation detrimental to democracy, the protests intensify, and the police response to demonstrators grows progressively more aggressive, infringing upon individual rights.
Much like the collection of anti-democratic laws championed by Benjamin Netanyahu's government, which culminate in a shift towards dictatorship, the right to protest and demonstrate held by citizens is gradually deteriorating. Weekly, new restrictions surface that curtail avenues of protest, limiting public demonstrations. Ministers resort to arbitrary arrests against protesters, antiquated laws are robustly enforced, and police commanders instruct officers to disperse demonstrations using excessive force. Currently, the majority of police efforts in Israel are directed towards suppressing protests and demonstrators, rather than prioritizing crime prevention and protecting citizens from criminal activities.
Despite the nearly eight months of ongoing demonstrations and protests, recent weeks have witnessed an uptick in police aggression towards protesters. Social media abounds with compelling evidence, showing arbitrary arrests carried out by police officers employing disproportionate physical force. This heightened police violence can be attributed to several factors, with the primary one being Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir's endeavor to demonstrate his capacity to suppress liberal demonstrators through brute force. Ben Gvir, an extreme right-wing figure with a history of criminal convictions, including participation in riots, vandalism, obstruction of a police officer, incitement of racism, possession of propaganda material for a terrorist organization, and support of terrorist groups, is aiming to quash protests by leveraging his violent tendencies. Notably, he was never drafted into the Israel Defense Forces due to his association with a terrorist organization.
This past weekend, a vivid instance of police abuse of power transpired, exemplifying the police's use of excessive force to disband demonstrations and discourage opponents of the coup from joining protests. Ziv Meltzer, a high-tech entrepreneur and co-founder of the medtech company Hello Heart, was captured in a video being aggressively restrained and dragged by an undercover policeman during a demonstration in Tel Aviv. This demonstration was part of a larger protest against religious coercion, which forms part of the coalition agreements leading to the anti-democratic legislation promoted by the government. Meltzer, as per his account shared on social media, merely sought to deliver water bottles to protesters and displayed no violent behavior.
"Unexpectedly, a man in plain civilian attire (who was later identified as an undercover police officer) emerged from behind, delivering a blow to my face and ensnaring me in a chokehold. He forced me to the ground, pinning me beneath him, all the while maintaining his grip around my neck and constricting my airway. Surrounding police officers surrounded us, effectively preventing anyone from capturing photographs or documenting the unfolding incident. Despite my lack of protest, the officer persisted in tightly strangling me, eventually dragging me away while clenching my windpipe and commanding: 'Apologize. Apologize,'" Meltzer recounted in his post.
Meltzer's partner, Hello Heart CEO Maayan Cohen, tweeted that Meltzer's arrest was baseless, lacking any provocation or aggression on his part. "If this is the treatment afforded to entrepreneurs from American high-tech companies dedicated to healthcare and life preservation, how can we hope to attract international investors and persuade them that everything is functioning normally here?", Cohen wrote. She provided an update on Melzer's release and condition, explaining that there was no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part. She mentioned that he had spent the prior night undergoing hospital tests and that he was presently in good health, resting at home. She further remarked, "Dictatorship is already here, but we will combat it and expel the dark forces that have altered the course of our nation."
The CEO of Papaya Global, Eynat Guez, shared the video of Meltzer's arrest on Twitter, noting his arrest over the triviality of holding a water bottle. “The Israeli police just arrested violently Ziv Meltzer, co-founder of Hello Heart. Hello Heart is one of the most promising startups in Heart disease prevention in the US, which raised $140M to date. Ziv was charged for holding a water bottle...this is the face of the Israeli rapid dictatorship transformation we are fighting against day by day.”
Additionally, entrepreneur Ran Harnevo tweeted about the impact of Meltzer's arrest on Israel's reputation within the global high-tech industry. "When an individual such as Ziv Meltzer is apprehended in broad daylight like this (with these images disseminating across the global high-tech sector)... the government is essentially initiating a conflict against our identity as Israelis... a regime that incarcerates Ziv Meltzer with such brutal force has forfeited its legitimacy within the Israeli populace."
High-tech figures in Israel play a prominent role in resisting the coup attempt, engaging in demonstrations, financing, and planning to raise awareness about the threat of dictatorship. These individuals operate as conscientious citizens, participating in lawful and nonviolent civil unrest activities. Demonstrations include blocking major traffic routes in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, even encompassing a blockade of Israel's international airport. Despite the participation of tens of thousands, flight schedules remained unaffected, as protest organizers meticulously preserved order.
Tens of thousands of vocal protesters accompanied the Prime Minister during his vacations in northern Israel, prompting his security detail to unlawfully seal residential areas and restrict demonstrators within kilometers of his presence. The Supreme Court intervened, highlighting the violation of citizens' movement rights, leading to the removal of these barriers. Similarly, during the Prime Minister's participation in the inauguration of a new light train line, Israel Police cordoned off entire streets in Tel Aviv, hampering citizens' access and movement for the duration. This undue exercise of power reflects a broader pattern of anti-democratic behavior by the government and the police.
Recent events within Israeli society serve as compelling evidence of the government's gradual yet consistent dismantling of Israeli democracy. This approach enjoys robust support and enthusiastic encouragement from all members of the anti-democratic right-wing coalition. Alongside the so-called “legal reforms”, the government encroaches upon citizens' basic rights, aiming to quash protests using methods reminiscent of dictatorial regimes. Escalating police violence, utilization of undercover officers, and movement restrictions to shield leaders from public dissent are just some of the strategies deployed by the far-right coalition in its bid to quash democracy in Israel.