Fresh round of protests against Netanyahu and COVID policies set for Sat. night

Jerusalem, Tel Aviv demonstrations to take place against backdrop of new restrictions, government plans for weekend lockdowns; police warn they will not allow lawlessness

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israelis exasperated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as his government’s response to the pandemic are slated to hold another round of mass rallies on Saturday evening, both outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv.

The organizers of the Jerusalem protest said they are gathering due to the “government’s failure to manage the crisis.” It is expected to be attended by many of the young activists who have been frequenting the anti-Netanyahu rallies in recent weeks, joining a generally older crowd of demonstrators who have for years been calling for the premier’s ouster due to the corruption allegations he faces.

Meanwhile for the second weekend in a row, thousands of Israelis are expected to gather in Tel Aviv for a protest against the Netanyahu government, but unlike the one in Jerusalem, the coastal city demonstration will be more focused on the economic response to the pandemic.

In a statement from junior Jerusalem activists carried by Channel 12, organizers described themselves as “the young men and women you have not seen on the streets before. But we’ve had enough of remaining silent in the face of the bone-headedness, detachment, corruption and incompetence of this evil government.

“They have destroyed our livelihood, but we are not prepared to let them destroy our future and our hope as well,” the young organizers added.

A protester slips as Israeli police use water cannons during clashes at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2020. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Responding to those who have accused them of being anarchists, the organizers said, “the real anarchists are sitting in the Knesset and are headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Many of them were among the hundreds who demonstrated outside Netanyahu’s residence on Friday, in what was the third such rally this week at the junction of Gaza Street and Balfour Street.

A previous protest, attended by several thousand people on Tuesday, turned violent and dozens were arrested during clashes with police.

Many of the protesters on Friday turned up in bathing suits and with beach towels in a dig at the Netanyahu government’s plan to shut beaches on weekends, saying the government was not only corrupt, but also chaotic and inept.

Among those taking part in the protest was former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz.

A protest against Prime Minister Netanyahu outside the PM’s Residence in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Organizers called the rallies a “Siege of Balfour” and said the event was also to protest the government’s plans to introduce weekend lockdowns and limit public gatherings as part of the efforts to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

In Tel Aviv, Saturday evening’s event will be held at Charles Clore Park along the water front. Hundreds of policemen were deploying to maintain order, with the force saying it would secure demonstrators’ right to protest while preventing lawlessness.

Self-employed business owners hit by the pandemic’s closures had sought to hold the protest at Rabin Square, where last week at least ten thousand took part in such a rally. But police vetoed a large demonstration at the location due to fears of virus spread. At least one protester who attended the densely-crowded economic protest in the square on Saturday was later diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Police approved the protest at the park on the condition that attendees adhere to virus regulations and attendance stays below 8,000.

The self-employed will be joined by restaurant and bar owners, who earlier this week had said they did not plan to join the protest due to their ongoing dialogue with the government. However, they walked back the decision on Friday amid the new restrictions and Netanyahu’s subsequent flip-flop regarding restaurants that left many of their owners throwing their hands up in frustration over the chaotic manner in which major decisions were being made.

Protesters hold signs during a demonstration against Israel’s government in Rabin square in Tel Aviv, on July 11, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

This time the economic protesters will also be joined by the anti-corruption “black flag” protesters, who organizers had sought to push out of Rabin Square just a week ago in an effort to keep their demonstration as apolitical as possible.

The black flag protests are an ongoing movement against Netanyahu, who is standing trial in a series of graft cases. Demonstrations have been held regularly around the country, with protesters waving signs reading “crime minister” and calling for Netanyahu to resign.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

He has denied wrongdoing and claimed the charges are part of an effort by political opponents, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.

New restrictions

Cabinet ministers voted for new restrictions in the early hours of Friday morning, as virus cases in Israel surged to record highs. Israel has seen the daily infection rate rise to 1,800-1,900. The number of active cases as of Friday evening stood at 26,323, of a total of 47,459 since the start of the pandemic.

The restrictions went into effect Friday at 5 p.m., limiting public gatherings until further notice and shuttering various leisure and fitness activities, as well as limiting businesses’ operations on weekends.

A last-minute reversal by the government led to a decision to keep restaurants open until Tuesday, when they will be shuttered until further notice for all but takeaways and deliveries. The government changed course when it faced widespread threats by restaurant owners to defy the closure order, which had been originally intended to take effect at 5 p.m. on Friday.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn vowed Friday that there will be no limits on demonstrations or on courts, even if a full lockdown is enacted down the road.

Amid growing public unrest and demonstrations by various groups — from opponents of the premier to Israelis suffering economically from the government’s pandemic policies — some have called to restrict protests citing public health concerns. This has led protest activists to warn of a threat to democratic freedoms should the right to demonstrate be impinged upon.

“Even under limitations, we will ensure civil rights,” Nissenkorn said in a Facebook post. “The fundamentals of democracy are important during regulars times, and even more important during emergencies.”

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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