Some 3,000 people protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on Friday evening, the latest in a series of demonstrations calling on him to quit.
Recent weeks have seen near-daily demonstrations against Netanyahu due to his criminal indictment for corruption and to protest his handling of the coronavirus and accompanying economic crisis.
Friday saw organizers trial a system to gauge how many people were at the rallies, handing out white bracelets to all participants in a bid to show that attendance was larger than officially reported.
Last Saturday’s protest, which was the largest anti-Netanyahu Jerusalem demonstration to date, saw an estimated 10,000 people according to the Israeli police. However, protest organizers claimed that the actual numbers ranged between 15,000-30,000 people.
“According to the number of white bracelets that were handed out there are over 3,000 people here, and no reporter or police can deny this,” announced an organizer on the central stage during Friday’s protest, to loud applause.
The weekly Friday protests, which are called “Kabbalat Shabbat,” tend to attract more young families than the larger Saturday night protests which have frequently seen clashes between protesters and police.
Friday’s gathering had a carnival atmosphere, with many wearing costumes. These included clowns holding up a sign reading “Who is the Court Jester” and an Israeli statue of liberty holding up a torch reading “Hope.” There were also several people dressed up as aliens, in response to Netanyahu’s son, Yair, who during a radio interview on Monday dismissed the protesters by calling them “aliens.” He then partially walked back the description, while his father endorsed it.
Towards the end of the protest, organizers tried to hold a parade outside the closed-off junction of Gaza and Balfour streets, but were stopped by police.
“We are going to walk on the sidewalk, so we don’t block the road, and circle the square and Balfour for Kabbalat Shabbat,” announced one of the organizers on stage. Hundreds of protesters attempted to leave the blocked off area, but were prevented from doing so by the police.
Although some protesters shouted “Shame” at the police, the incident ended without confrontation. The protesters, who included a large number of older people and children, peacefully dispersed around 7 p.m.
Also Friday, the Jerusalem municipality cleared a protest camp in the nearby Independence Park, saying protesters had violated an agreement to remain in a specific area set aside for them.
A much larger protest is expected Saturday night in Jerusalem, along with Black Flag demonstrations on over 260 bridges and intersections across the country.
Protesters have long been holding regular rallies outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. They have been joined in recent weeks by people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds in the thousands and rising.
Netanyahu is on trial for a series of cases in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office.