Day after PM rules out hostage deal that leaves Hamas standing

Anti-government protesters handcuff selves to labor union building, demanding strike

Video shows demonstrators inside Histadrut’s Tel Aviv HQ, refusing to leave; protesters also stop traffic briefly on routes 2 and 4, burning tires and demanding a hostage deal

The Changing Direction protest group stages a rally calling for elections, outside the Histadrut labor federation building in Tel Aviv, June 24, 2024. (Adar Eyal / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)
The Changing Direction protest group stages a rally calling for elections, outside the Histadrut labor federation building in Tel Aviv, June 24, 2024. (Adar Eyal / Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Anti-government protesters from the Changing Direction activist group handcuffed themselves to the headquarters of the Histadrut labor federation in Tel Aviv on Monday, calling for a general strike until a date is set for new elections.

Elections must come before October 7, 2024, protesters said, the first anniversary of the Hamas attack in which some 3,000 terrorists invaded southern Israel from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and taking 251 hostages, and started the ongoing war between Israel and the terror group.

“The government of blood continues to engage in petty politics to remain in place at the citizens’ expense. If we don’t act today to replace our leadership, we will all pay the price,” the protesters said in a statement.

Police at the scene struggled to disperse the protesters, who had locked arms through PVC pipes. Other protesters had made it into the Histadrut building and refused to leave.

Histadrut chair Arnon Bar-David called in May for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set a date for early elections, and has indicated that if the prime minister refuses, the organization could take steps to force his hand.

If Netanyahu declines and his government holds, they can rule until the next general elections that are formally scheduled for October 2026

Last year, the Histadrut called a general strike in response to Netanyahu’s brief firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, after Gallant came out publicly against the government’s proposed reforms to the judicial system. The strike brought the country to a standstill until the prime minister agreed to temporarily shelve the reform effort.

Anti-government protesters on Monday briefly blocked traffic on Route 2, close to Tel Aviv, as well as northbound traffic on Route 4, near the central city of Hod HaSharon. Demonstrators burned tires and chanted “Elections now!”

“While hostages are being abandoned in Gaza, the north is burning, and another war threatens to break out, the government is abandoning all of us. This is an emergency,” the protesters said in a statement quoted by Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

The statement referred to the situation on Israel’s northern border, where forces led by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group have been attacking Israeli communities and military posts on a near-daily basis since October 8, saying they are doing so in support of Gaza.

Israel has responded with strikes on Hezbollah infrastructure and operatives, and has vowed to ensure that the terror group withdraw its forces north of the Litani river, as demanded by a 2006 resolution of the United Nations Security Council.

Israeli leaders say that they would prefer the conflict be solved diplomatically, but are ready to go to war against the group if necessary.

For several months, anti-government protesters have held weekly demonstrations on Saturday nights calling for elections as well as an immediate deal with Hamas to release the hostages held in Gaza.

Protests escalated with a “week of disruption” last week, which saw highway blockages, high school walk-outs, and mass rallies outside the Knesset and the prime minister’s residence in Caesarea.

The demonstrations have also become sites of clashes between police and demonstrators, some of which have sent protesters to the hospital and sparked an internal investigation by the police.

The protesters’ demand for elections echoed calls from senior members of Knesset who have left the coalition in recent months, such as National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz and MK Gadi Eisenkot.

The demonstrations also came as the government is seeking to pass two controversial bills at the behest of the coalition’s two ultra-Orthodox parties, raising the prospect that those parties could withdraw their support if the bills don’t pass.

In an interview on Sunday, Netanyahu rejected outright any hostage release deal that would leave Hamas in power as the de facto government of the Gaza Strip. “I’m not prepared to end the war and leave Hamas standing. I am prepared to do a partial deal, that’s no secret, that would return some of the people to us,” he said. “But we are obligated to continue the fighting after a pause in order to complete our goal of destroying Hamas. I’m not prepared to give up on that.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 14 in the first interview he’s given to an Israeli news outlet since October 7, on June 23, 2024. (Screenshot, Channel 14, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Netanyahu’s comments appeared to contradict the terms of Israel’s latest proposed deal, which reportedly provides for a temporary ceasefire in its first phase, to be extended into a “cessation of military operations and hostilities permanently” in a second phase.

The comments were denounced by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which accused Netanyahu of “breaching the moral duty of the State of Israel to its citizens.”

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — dozens of them thought to be dead.

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