Israeli "social justice" demonstrators on Saturday renewed last summer's movement against Israel's high cost of living with a Tel Aviv rally that quickly turned into a violent riot.
Last year, weekly social justice demonstrations in Tel Aviv and elsewhere repeatedly attracted hundreds of thousands of participants. Those gatherings were almost entirely peaceful. But the leaders of the movement apparently felt last year's approach had failed to sufficiently achieve their goals.
When several thousand protesters came together in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, their intentions were anything but peaceful. While violently clashing with police, a number of the protesters smashed the windows of three banks. Later in the night, several hundred demonstrators blocked Israel's large coastal highway, causing major traffic jams.
Protest leaders denounced the more violent incidents, but then turned around and suggested that the confrontation had been a sort of revenge for alleged police brutality when social justice activists demonstrated without a permit on Friday.
Police officials insisted there had been no brutality, but that some demonstrators had to be restrained and removed with force.
Saturday night's clashes ended with the arrest of 85 protesters, 20 of whom police said would face criminal charges.
"We have to enforce the law. Protests are legitimate and we will allow them as long as they are held within the law. If we didn’t initiate arrests we would have seen looting as well," a police official told Israel's Ynet news service. "The rioters crossed every possible red line. I couldn’t believe this could happen in Israel. We were very close to seeing the harsh sights we see in violent rallies overseas, here."
Israel's social justice movement was largely modeled after last year's "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations in America.