In recent days our police officers have been busy dispersing two groups of rioters: On the one hand, fans of soccer team Beitar Jerusalem, who were rioting while celebrating the winning of the national championship, and on the other hand, hundreds of university students, who in an attempt to encourage their comrades and the prime minister to take an interest in their struggle, initiated deliberate and planned clashes with police officers.
When it comes to Beitar fans, there is broad public agreement that police actions in maintaining law and order, even by using force, are justified. Yet what is true for the fans apparently is improper when it comes to the students' struggle.
Student leaders, backed by the media, are wailing after every rioting session: "The police officers beat me up - they dragged me - these cops are so violent." They also make sure to photograph the work of the police, and of course do it in a manner detached from the chronological events.
As a rule, the Israeli public and justice system display a double standard when it comes to rioting demonstrators: When the "orange" settlers and their supporters, for ideological reasons and in an attempt to prevent the destruction of thousands of homes, blocked roadways ahead of the disengagement â€“ they were treated as if they were undermining the rule of law. The police and prosecutor's office viewed them as criminals, and some of them were even convicted and jailed.
Yet when the students, who are fighting for 500 dollars, block major streets in the large cities and disrupt daily lives just because they want money, the police talk to them, journalists encourage them, and the Israeli public hopes they succeed.
Police inquiry needed
As opposed to less popular demonstrations, in the student protest I have yet to see a parade of Knesset members facing the microphones with a concerned facial expression, warning against anarchy, and calling on the legal system to jail student leaders because otherwise Israeli democracy would collapse.
The opposite is true: Those law abiding Knesset members are actually pointing the finger at the police and charge them with resorting to exaggerated violence. Some MKs even recommended that the police conduct be investigated.
A police inquiry may indeed be in order, yet the police itself should be investigated for not undertaking more drastic measures. It must provide answers, for example, for questions such as how 200 students managed to block Jerusalem's Jaffa Street for two hours while police officers under the direction of District Commander Ilan Franco failed to remove them from there.
I would like to make it clear that my words are not meant to weaken the resolve of student leaders. The opposite is true: As a former student leader myself in the 1998 struggle, I hope they succeed. I also believe that violating the law during this struggle is a legitimate way to achieve their goals. However, they must know and take into account that anyone who violates the law knowingly deserves punishment.
The Israeli law enforcement system must hold long debates in order to formulate procedures against ideological offenders â€“ and utilize them in an equal manner. Such procedures, which would be publicized, may also deter rioters, while guiding police officers regarding what can and cannot be done in the face of rioters in Bil'in, Jerusalem's soccer stadium, Samaria hills â€“ and also at university campuses.
The writer is a public relations professional and was among student leaders during the 1998 struggle