Protest against Jehovah’s Witnesses seminar in central Israel turns violent – Haaretz
A demonstration against a Jehovah’s Witnesses seminar being held in a municipal building turned violent in Ra’anana on Saturday.
About 1,000 protesters showed up to protest the event after a prolonged court struggle in which the municipality unsuccessfully attempted to cancel the event.
Two days earlier, a district court ruled that the objection to the event infringed on the right to freedom of religion and ritual and overturned the municipality’s decision to cancel the event so as not to “hurt the feelings of the public.”
Police kept the demonstrators away from the building with barriers. As the seminar participants entered, they both prayed and sang loudly in groups, with some of the crowd imploring them not to go in or jeering at them as they did. Others were more restrained, praying quietly at the fringes of the crowd.
“Any Jew who leaves Judaism becomes a Jew-killer!” one man shouted.
The crowds who came to protest were responding to posters that had been put up across town on Thursday and Friday by the city’s chief rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, calling for an “outcry and protest” against the event, saying it was “incumbent on all residents” to show up for morning prayers outside the sports hall where the seminar was taking place.
After the prayer session, a crowd began to attempt to approach the building through a side entrance. They were warned away by police, but a small group persisted, and two men who refused to move and attacked the security detail trying to stop them were pushed to the ground, punched in the face and sprayed with pepper spray until they were handcuffed and led away.
The scene outside the seminar, May 2, 2015.(Allison Kaplan Sommer)
The crowd grew larger and angrier, demanding that the two men be released, and a police vehicle was brought in to block the entrance to the building.
The situation was defused when Rabbi Peretz entered the building and secured the release of the two men, who raised their hands triumphantly as they exited.
After the Ra’anana municipality cited “real fear” that the Jehovah’s Witnesses sought to convince children and teenagers to convert from Judaism, the Lod District Court ruled Wednesday that the objection to the event infringed on the right to freedom of religion and ritual.
“A read between the lines shows that the change in the municipality’s position stems from a protest by biased groups,” Judge Varda Meroz wrote. “The municipality lets these groups sway its judgment while infringing on rights and exceeding the boundaries of reason.”
Meroz ruled that the municipality had “violated the petitioner’s constitutional right to freedom of religion and assembly, as well as the right to dignity, liberty and equality. These rights supersede the alleged offense to certain Ra’anana residents.”
The municipality, she said, “hadn’t proved the existence of extreme and unusual circumstances that could justify the infringement on the petitioner’s constitutional rights.”