Likud backbencher MK Osnat Mark derided attendees of Saturday evening’s demonstration against the government’s coronavirus economic plans as “radical leftists,” implying that widespread antipathy toward the prime minister among the protesters was illegitimate.
“I did not see the self-employed there. Only leftists and radical leftists who came and said one thing: ‘Down with Bibi,'” she said on Monday during a session of the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee.
“We are not in an election campaign right now, we are in the campaign to save the self-employed, and this must be done in conjunction with the government,” she said.
Thousands of people descended on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to protest against the Israeli government’s handling of the economic crisis caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and what they say is insufficient aid offered to small business owners and professionals in the hard-hit entertainment and hospitality industries.
Organizers said some 10,000 people were at the noisy but peaceful demonstration Saturday evening. Police initially said they would restrict the number of participants but ended up widening the area to allow for a bigger crowd.
While the organizers said the demonstration would be nonpartisan, with no party politicians addressing the rally, a number of posters calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a corrupt leader were spotted in the crowd. Earlier in the evening, protesters wearing shirts emblazoned with the words “crime minister,” were asked by organizers to leave, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
As the protest dispersed later Saturday, scuffles were reported as hundreds of people blocked roads and clashed with police at several locations, including the city’s Ibn Gabirol Street, Rothschild Boulevard and the Azrieli intersection.
Videos on social media showed scuffles between cops and protesters as some chanted “Bibi go home,” using the prime minister’s nickname.
According to the Ynet news site, police were in some cases using riders on horseback and pepper spray to disperse crowds. Reports indicated that 19 people had been arrested.
According to a Channel 13 poll released on Sunday evening, 61 percent of Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and 75% are unhappy with how his government has handled the economic fallout of the pandemic. Only 16% said that they were satisfied with the government’s economic response.
Unemployment in Israel is at some 21% — or 850,000 people — and is rising, as restrictions imposed amid record daily coronavirus infections further batter the economy.
Many have expressed anger that stipends approved for those hurt economically by the coronavirus could amount to far less than what was promised by Netanyahu at a press conference last week.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu distanced himself from comments made by his Likud party ally Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, who dismissed claims that some Israelis don’t have enough money for food amid the economic crisis as “bullshit.”
Jacob Magid contributed to this report.