Several dozen protesters interrupted Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Saturday evening as he was praying Kaddish, the Jewish mourning prayer, drawing strong condemnation.
For over a year demonstrations have been held every Saturday night outside Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva, alleging that he is stalling in a series of corruption probes against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But this was the first time that demonstrators targeted him at a synagogue near his house, where he was saying Kaddish for his mother, who passed away several months ago.
The demonstrators, who arrived in the course of the Maariv (evening prayer) marking the end of the Sabbath, chanted slogans against him from outside the synagogue, and angry worshipers came out and confronted them. Mandelblit left the synagogue with his family when the protest started, Israel Radio reported, departing with his bodyguard because of concern that the incident would escalate.
“Go away from here, this is a religious place you are desecrating,” one person from the synagogue shouted at the demonstrators.
“So what if we bothered you, look what’s happened to the country,” one woman shouted back.
Organizers of the weekly demonstrations distanced themselves from the incident, saying they had no connection to it.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked called the protesters “violent thugs.”
“When, in the name of free speach, you prevent a Jew from saying Kaddish for his mother — that’s not democracy. That’s violent thuggery,” she tweeted.
Moshe Cohen, the spokeman for the Justice Ministry, issued a personal statement, calling the protesters “an embarrassment,” and said they had “crossed a red line.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also condemned the protesters.
“Shocked at the callous protesters, lacking any sensitivity that interrupted the Attorney General while praying in a synagogue and saying Kaddish for his mother,” tweeted Herzog. “A totally inhuman act. Even the sacred right to protest in Israel’s democracy has limits that can’t be breached.”
The weekly demonstrations at Mandelblit’s home originally attracted small numbers of protesters, but swelled to more than 2,000 in recent months. They have also spawned much bigger anti-corruption rallies held in Tel Aviv and across the country.
In April, the High Court of Justice ruled that while the protests should not be used to exert improper pressure on public servants by harassing them in their private residences, it could not prevent the demonstrations, which are an “important and central component of any democratic society.”
In August, police tried to block the protests, which had grown to 2,000 people, and arrested two of the organizers — leaders Menny Naftali, a former caretaker of the Prime Minister’s Residence, and Eldad Yaniv, an anti-corruption lawyer and Labor Party activist — as they tried to make their way to the planned site of the demonstration.
Netanyahu has described the weekly events as part of an undemocratic effort to topple him “at any cost.”
There have also been counter-demonstrations by right-wing supporters.
Demonstrators have been calling on the attorney general to act in corruption scandals involving Netanyahu. In the so-called Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife Sara are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases.
The attorney general and state prosecutor have denied stalling, saying the investigations simply take a long time to complete.