Hundreds protest in Tel Aviv against new virus lockdown

Demonstrators call for Netanyahu’s removal and blame him for resurgent outbreak; other protesters gather at dozens of bridges, traffic junctions

Anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv ahead of the start of Israel's second coronavirus lockdown, September 17, 2020. The sign reads: "When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes a must."  (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv ahead of the start of Israel's second coronavirus lockdown, September 17, 2020. The sign reads: "When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes a must." (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Hundreds of Israelis protested in Tel Aviv late Thursday against a second nationwide lockdown to combat Israel’s surging coronavirus outbreak.

“The economy is in free-fall, people are losing their jobs, they’re depressed,” said Yael, one of between 300 and 400 demonstrators at Habima Square.

“And all this for what? For nothing!” said the 60-year-old, a former employee of an architectural firm who lost her job in the crisis.

The lockdown is set to begin on Friday afternoon, ahead of the start of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, and continue for at least three weeks. Israel now has one of the highest daily infection rates per capita in the world.

There are currently no restrictions on demonstrations during the lockdown.

Demonstrators at the Tel Aviv protest carried signs that read, “To be a free people in our land,” a reference to the Hatikva national anthem, the Haaretz news site reported.

Anti-corruption protesters of the Black Flag movement also gathered at dozens of traffic intersections and bridges around the country.

The organization said in a statement: “The start of the ‘Netanyahu lockdown’ and the way it’s being managed shows what we have claimed from the start — a criminal defendant cannot be prime minister. The defendant was busy this week on his election campaign as the economy crashed and hundreds of thousands of families entered a future of economic doom.”

“We are here and will continue to struggle for the continued existence of the State of Israel, and not the State of Netanyahu.”

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on September 17, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The group, one of the leading organizations in the ongoing protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Monday that it will call off demonstrations outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem during the upcoming lockdown, but will continue with demonstrations on bridges, a staple of the protest movement.

The Black Flags group said Monday that it would freeze the larger Jerusalem demonstrations in deference to “social solidarity” and “social responsibility.”

In its announcement, it blamed the lockdown on the prime minister, saying the need to once again close the country down was “all the result of Netanyahu’s failures.”

Two other leading anti-corruption groups vowed to press on with protests at Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence.

Regular demonstrations, sometimes drawing tens of thousands of protesters, have called for the resignation of Netanyahu due to his indictment on corruption charges, and decried the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

Netanyahu said on Thursday night that the unpopular new lockdown was “important” and “necessary,” and warned that the government may need to tighten regulations further.

Magen David Adom medical workers wearing protective clothing outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on September 14, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

No limitations have been announced regarding demonstrations during the lockdown, according to a government decision released on Thursday.

Israel has seen virus cases surge in recent weeks. On Tuesday, it hit an all-time high of around 5,500 new cases, but on Wednesday dropped back down to 4,546 new cases, according to Health Ministry data released Thursday.

The figure is far higher than the 1,000 daily cases the Health Ministry is aiming for before it will consider lifting some of the lockdown measures, which will see movement restricted, leisure sites closed, and the education system shuttered, among other limitations, officials said.

Over 1,200 people are hospitalized with the virus, and a record 579 patients were listed in serious condition on Thursday, according to Health Ministry figures. Since the start of the pandemic, 172,322 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, or nearly 2 percent of the population.

In response to those worrying numbers, Israel’s cabinet voted on Wednesday night to okay the roster of new restrictions.

The rules have faced opposition from religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews, because they will impact public prayer services during the High Holidays; from business owners, because of the loss in trade; and from the general public, because the closure of the education system will force many parents to miss work as they stay home to care for young children.

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