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Anti-Netanyahu protesters claim ‘victory’ on eve of new government vote

Hundreds gather in capital to celebrate anticipated end of PM’s 12-year rule; Bennett: Not the time for demonstrations, provocations, treat Netanyahu and family with respect

Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on June 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on June 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Around 2,000 people demonstrated Saturday night outside the Jerusalem residence of Benjamin Netanyahu on the eve of a crucial vote in parliament that could end the reign of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

Saturday’s rally was expected to be the final weekend demonstration against the premier before a new coalition ousting him is to be sworn in Sunday.

To the tune of the Italian partisans’ Bella Ciao song, protesters belted out “Bibi Ciao” in celebration after nearly a year of rallies outside his home demanding his departure from office.

“For us, this is a big night and tomorrow will be even a bigger day. I am almost crying. We fought peacefully for this and the day has come,” said protester Ofir Robinski.

“Netanyahu only tried to divide us and set each part of society against the other. But tomorrow we’ll be united: right, left, Jews and Arabs.”

An Israeli protester dressed as lady justice looks on during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in front of his residence in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2021, a day ahead of a vote on a new government at the Knesset which would end his rule. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

Demonstrators have been holding regular protests against Netanyahu, demanding he resign over his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In recent weeks protesters also called upon politicians to unite against the long-serving leader and establish a new government.

The unlikely alliance of right-wing, left-wing, centrist, and Islamist parties finalized and signed coalition agreements Friday, paving the way for the 61-strong coalition to be sworn in on Sunday, ending Netanyahu’s 12-year term in office.

Protesters blew vuvuzelas or beat drums, while some wore T-shirt that read in Hebrew: “Bibi Lekh” (“Bibi go”).

“We are about to be done with a dark era for Israel,” said Ram Shamir.

Another protester, Gali Israel Tal, 62, was also optimistic that the Knesset vote on Sunday would spell Netanyahu’s political demise.

“This is our last Saturday here. We won. Tomorrow the Knesset will vote and this prime minister will go. It is good. He will go,” she said.

Numerous smaller protests took place at highway overpasses and intersections around the country.

Near Nahariya, a man in a passing car brandished an object that looked like a gun at demonstrators, according to Channel 12 news. The protesters, who managed to film the incident, filed a complaint with the police.

Channel 12 described this week’s protests as a sort of celebration for protesters, marking the end of Netanyahu’s 12-year reign.

But prime minister-designate Naftali Bennett said Saturday: “This is not the time for demonstrations and provocations,” adding a plea to treat Netanyahu and his family with respect.

The Black Flags protest group said it was planning a supportive rally outside the Knesset on Sunday titled: “Yes to change, yes to unity, yes to hope,” as the new government is set to be sworn in.

“Never doubt that a small group of worried and caring citizens can change the world; that’s the only thing that has ever brought about change,” the group said in a statement.

Israelis protest against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on June 12, 2021.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

At its height in mid-summer 2020, the anti-Netanyahu protest movement saw tens of thousands take to the streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, with thousands more at bridges and intersections across the country.

Protesters also criticized his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the largest demonstrations so far was held on March 20, in what was the final mass protest before the latest Knesset elections. Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Jerusalem on that Saturday evening.

Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and claims the indictments are part of an effort by political rivals, the media, police, and prosecutors to remove him from office.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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