Ex-defense minister Ya'alon: PM is guilty; elections now

Mass anti-government rally held at Knesset for 2nd night, but planned march fizzles out

Police block roads as protesters seek to head to President’s Residence; all of Azza Street, where Netanyahu lives, also closed off; some participants blame confusion on organizers

Thousands of Israelis protest against the current government and call for early elections, near the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 18, 2024. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Thousands of Israelis protest against the current government and call for early elections, near the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 18, 2024. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters demonstrated Tuesday outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, calling for early elections and the government’s ouster during the second straight evening of protests in the capital.

Organizers of the rally planned to hold a massive march to the President’s Residence after speeches wrapped up outside the Knesset, but protesters encountered trucks and police cars blocking the roads from all sides when leaving the area around the parliament building.

The demonstration then split off into multiple directions, with many confused about where to go. The general consensus among protesters was that police intentionally blocked the roads to disrupt the march.

As drummers continued to play around the Knesset, protesters went up on the sidewalk after police demanded they stop blocking the road. Though never used, law enforcement hauled out a water cannon.

Noy, an elderly woman who came from Tel Aviv to protest, attributed the confusion among demonstrators to a lack of clear instruction from the organizers. She confessed that she “had no clue where to go” when she began to march from the Knesset, with protest leaders giving contradictory information about the march.

Although a group of a hundred or so flag-bearing protesters managed to slip through a narrow gap between the vehicles, they scattered later on. Police also blocked the entirety of Azza Street, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private residence is located, before protesters were able to reach the area.

Israelis protest against the current government and call for early elections, near the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 18, 2024. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Tuesday’s protest followed Monday’s massive demonstration, which organizers claimed had a turnout of some 150,000 people. That rally and successive march to Netanyahu’s home saw violent skirmishes between law enforcement and protesters in which police used a water cannon, resulting in the hospitalization of three people.

Tal Weissbach, a volunteer doctor at Monday’s protest, had to check herself into Tel Hashomer Hospital after being struck in the face by a blast from a water cannon on Monday evening that appeared to violate police ordinances. She stood on the side of the road wearing a bright orange vest, to distinguish herself from those seeking treatment, and her eyesight is now at risk due to the injury.

Two other protesters were taken by Magen David Adom medics to local hospitals. One of them was unconscious after being struck by the water cannon and the other — a 63-year-old woman — was severely injured after being thrown into a wall, according to Channel 12 news.

Ahead of Tuesday’s protest, some demonstrators attempted to block an exit to Route 16 in Jerusalem, with police responding by forcibly clearing the road and even knocking one protester off a ladder. The protester was later taken for medical treatment, according to the Haaretz daily.

Later in the evening outside the Knesset, thousands of protesters gathered to listen to speeches from anti-government figures, the most prominent among them former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Ya’alon decried Netanyahu and his government for not having a clear goal in the ongoing war against Hamas and for not planning for the day after the fighting in Gaza ends. He shouted the popular anti-government slogan, “You are the leader, you are guilty!” which the crowd enthusiastically chanted back, with many waving Israeli flags and signs deriding Netanyahu and his coalition partners.

Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon speaks at an anti-government protest outside the Knesset in Jerusalem in June 18, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

“Since the founding of this government, the security situation has worsened, our economy has declined,” added Ya’alon, accusing the current coalition of being “prepared to sacrifice the hostages for the messianic outlook” of far-right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

“We are the majority and this is why they [the members of the government] worry about elections. We are demanding elections, now!” he continued.

Tuesday was the third day in what protest groups have called a “week of disruption” aimed at upping the pressure on Israel’s politicians to call new elections.

The large rally occurred at the same time that Netanyahu made a public appearance in Tel Aviv during which he derided the anti-government protesters and implied they do not support the ongoing war in Gaza.

“It’s true that there is an extreme, vocal minority, who are sometimes, unfortunately, violent, who are financed with unimaginable amounts of money, but they do not represent the majority of the people. The majority of people back our troops, who want and are working toward victory over our enemies,” he said.

His statement prompted criticism from the protesters themselves and some of his political opponents, including National Unity chair Benny Gantz, who resigned from the emergency coalition last week.

Gantz slammed Netanyahu for suggesting that anti-government protesters are opposed to the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, saying  “a demonstration against the government is not a demonstration against IDF soldiers.”

“An absolute majority among the protesters support our troops, similar to the large majority across all segments of Israeli society,” Gantz said, while slamming the coalition over the highly contentions Haredi enlistment legislation it’s currnetly advancing.

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