Tens of thousands of Israelis have once again demonstrated to demand Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation, saying he is unfit to rule while on trial for corruption charges and accusing him of mismanaging the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Protesters on Saturday gathered at hundreds of locations across Israel due to a nationwide lockdown that has barred them from protesting at the usual site outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem. The current lockdown regulations allow people only to gather within one kilometre (less than a mile) of their home.
The largest gathering at Habima Square in central Tel Aviv drew thousands of protesters, who blew horns and pounded on drums and tambourines. The protesters waved pink and black flags symbolising various grassroots protest movements. Some of the banners, using Netanyahu’s nickname, said, “Bibi, you are destroying my future.” Others read “Go!”
Police reported clashes with the protesters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. At least four were arrested for breaching police barriers, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.
“Disturbers of the peace clashed with officers who were standing at barriers and attacked them while throwing objects at them. A number of officers were injured and treated at the scene,” police were quoted as saying by Haaretz.
The Black Flags movement, which had called for the protests, said demonstrations were scheduled in 1,200 locations across the country.
One of the protest groups warned in a statement that the demonstration was a “warm up” for another one planned outside Netanyahu’s residence next week, when the ban on protesting beyond a kilometre from one’s home is lifted.
Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes for his role in a series of scandals, and the demonstrators have staged weekly gatherings for the past four months demanding that he step down. Netanyahu has denied the charges and accuses the protesters of being “leftists” and “anarchists”.
The marches have also been fuelled by the government’s response to the pandemic. After appearing to contain the outbreak earlier this year through a tight lockdown, the government swiftly reopened the economy and the infection rate soared. To date, Israel has recorded 289,875 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,941 related deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
With infections at record levels, Israel imposed another lockdown last month, further hurting business owners and entrepreneurs who have been a key component of the protests. The economy has been devastated by the closures, and many of the protesters are young Israelis who have lost their jobs.
Netanyahu’s trial, the pandemic and the plummeting economy are adding further pressure on his emergency government, which was formed in May in partnership with his elections’ rival, Benny Gantz.
The government was meant to address the coronavirus crisis and the parties formed it after three inconclusive polls in less than a year. Instead, it has been hobbled by nonstop infighting.
Last week, the government’s tourism minister, from Gantz’s Blue and White party, resigned over the failure to contain the outbreak. Violations of the lockdown by top government officials, including a cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s Likud and Netanyahu’s wife Sara last week, have further hurt public trust in the country’s decision-makers.