Thousands of Israelis marched in central Jerusalem and then rallied outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on Friday, to protest against the premier over his indictment on corruption charges and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Demonstrators have held regular protests this summer against Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other locations across the country, with the main protest site at the Prime Minister’s Residence in the capital.
The protest began with a short march from the old Knesset building in central Jerusalem to Paris Square, adjacent to Netanyahu’s residence. While the Friday “Kabbalat Shabbat” protests have become a weekly event drawing several thousand people, including young families and children, this week was the first time protesters were permitted by police to march in Jerusalem.
The demonstration was attended by a number of high-profile former figures from the military as well as academia and the arts, among them former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, former Shin Bet head Carmi Gillon and prize-winning biochemist Ruth Arnon.
“We will march not far to Democracy Square, formerly known as Paris Square,” Amir Haskel, leader of the Ein Matzav (No Way) group, told The Times of Israel. He was referring to demonstrators’ hanging of a large banner at the square last week unofficially renaming the site.
“We hope that this is another small step towards the end goal which is a separation from Netanyahu,” Haskel added.
He said what made this particular protest unique was the presence of many people “who dedicated many years of their lives to the country” in various fields, who had all gathered together for the sole purpose of ousting Netanyahu.
Unlike the unapproved and more wildcat marches held by the younger protesters in Jerusalem on Saturday evenings in recent weeks, Friday’s march was organized, short, and had a particularly nostalgic feel to it. The slightly older crowd calmly marched to the sound of classic Israeli military songs while chanting against corruption.
Several protesters could be seen donning blond “Shoshke” wigs in reference to last week’s arrest of cartoonist and performance artist Zeev Engelmayer. Engelmayer, who wears a bodysuit depicting a naked female body as part of his character known as “Shoshke,” has been a hard to miss fixture of the weekly protests. However, he was arrested last week because the police believed he was mocking the prime minister’s wife Sara Netanyahu.
Amir Hermoni, a 71-year-old from Yavne, a regular at the protests, said he was demonstrating for his four children and 14 grandchildren.
“[Netanyahu] just destroyed the economy and it doesn’t matter who comes after him. To fix the economy and society, [it will take] 20 years. He is leaving [behind him] ruins from a world war. That is why I am here. I believe his time is short. Every day that passes is terrible,” Hermoni said.
When the marchers arrived at the square, former Shin Bet head Gillon thanked Jerusalem District commander Doron Yedid and the city’s police force for approving the march and accompanying the protesters. Gillon’s comments were in marked contrast to frequent chants of “you won’t be chief of the police” at the Saturday evening protests by the younger crowds.
According to event organizers who handed out bracelets to keep count of attendance, over 6,000 people attended Friday’s protest. The large crowd forced the police to expand the barricaded demonstration area to Paris Square to contain everyone.
“Democracies do not die in one day… we are in the process and it’s time to wake up,” Haskel told the crowd from the center stage to loud cheers. “Israeli democracy is dying and connected to a ventilator.”