Hundreds of anti-Netanyahu protesters march in Tel Aviv despite virus lockdown

At least 2 demonstrators arrested, one for assaulting police officer; other rallies held across the country in accordance with emergency measures

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv, on October 8, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jaffa, next to Tel Aviv, on October 8, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Hundreds of anti-government protesters marched in Tel Aviv on Thursday night, a day after the government extended an emergency provision that bars public gatherings, including the ongoing demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for another week.

Smaller demonstrations against the premier were held in locations throughout the country, in adherence to restrictions prohibiting Israelis from protesting over 1 kilometer away from their homes.

There were some light scuffles between protesters and police in Tel Aviv. At least two demonstrators were arrested, and police ticketed dozens for not wearing masks and for straying farther than 1 kilometer from home, the Ynet news site reported. Two other protesters were detained and released.

A woman in her 20s was arrested after she refused a police request to put on a mask or identify herself, then punched and kicked an officer, police said.

The protesters gathered in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square for several hours, then marched to the adjacent city of Jaffa.

Shortly before midnight, police surrounded protesters in south Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood, and told them, “Anyone who wants to leave, stand in line, present identification, and you will be allowed to leave.” The demonstrators dispersed shortly after.

The nationwide protests were held on Thursday for the third time this week.

The “Black Flag” movement, one of the groups leading the protests, said that over one thousand demonstrations were held across Israel. It said “giant demonstrations” would be held on Saturday, when the weekly rallies against Netanyahu are typically held.

“Every day that Netanyahu sits in the prime minister’s chair is a day that costs the Israeli economy billions of shekels,” the group said in a statement, referring to the restrictions on businesses as part of the national lockdown.

“The time has come for the prime minister to look out for the citizens and not for himself,” it added.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Shilo Junction in the West Bank, October 8, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

A protester painted the Hebrew word “Go” — an increasingly popular slogan among anti-Netanyahu protesters — in large letters across Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

During a protest outside Bar Ilan University in central Israel, a demonstrator was lightly injured after being attacked with pepper spray, according to Hebrew media reports. He was taken to nearby Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan for treatment. Police opened an investigation into the incident.

Late Tuesday night, the Prime Minister’s Office said cabinet ministers approved by a telephone vote the extension of lockdown measures, including the limits on protests. They will remain in place at least until Tuesday.

Israel imposed a nationwide lockdown ahead of the High Holidays last month to rein in a surging coronavirus outbreak. The Knesset passed a law last week allowing the government to declare a special week-long state of emergency to limit participation in assemblies because of the pandemic. The government then declared the state of emergency, limiting all public gatherings to within a kilometer (half a mile) of a person’s home.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, October 8, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu has said the restrictions are driven by safety concerns as the country battles a runaway pandemic, but critics and protesters accuse him of tightening the lockdown to muzzle dissent.

Thousands of Israelis have participated in weekly demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem for months this summer, calling on the longtime prime minister to resign while on trial for corruption.

Since the restriction was approved last month, tens of thousands of Israelis have staged protests on street corners and public squares near their homes against Netanyahu and against the government’s perceived mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

Israel was initially praised for its swift imposition of restrictions in February to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But after reopening the economy and schools in May, new cases increased quickly, and have skyrocketed to one of the highest per capita in the world.

After nearly three weeks of lockdown, the number of daily new cases is gradually decreasing, but infections are still spreading, particularly among the hard-hit ultra-Orthodox community.

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