One of the leading groups in the ongoing protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that it will call off demonstrations outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem during the upcoming national lockdown, while two others vowed to press on with the events.
The lockdown, decided upon due to soaring infections, will go into effect Friday afternoon and is set to last at least three weeks. Israel is the first country to lock down fully for a second time over the pandemic.
No limitations have been announced regarding demonstrations during the lockdown, though with inter- and intra-city movement heavily restricted during the lockdown period, activists may find it harder to arrive at the prime minister’s official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street.
Netanyahu’s supporters have sought to portray the mass protests that have taken place throughout the country in recent months, calling on him to resign over his corruption trial, as a major disease vector, though health officials have said no cases have been traced back to the rallies so far.
The protest movement is made up of many activist groups, with the three largest being Ein Matzav (No Way), Crime Minister, and the Black Flags.
The Black Flags group said Monday that it would freeze 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.”
But the group said demonstrations at highway overpasses throughout the country, another staple of the protest movement, will continue in a safe manner. And it added that it would remain “vigilant to any harm against democracy and act as we see fit.”
The group said that it was preparing for “a huge rally when [the country] reopens, with an unequivocal demand for the resignation of the person to blame for the coronavirus debacle and for destroying the country.”
The Crime Minister and Ein Matzav groups said they would continue to protest on Balfour Street, while adhering to restrictions.
“The closure placed upon us is the continuation of a huge fiasco in treating the coronavirus and its consequences,” Ein Matzav said in statement. “The conduct of the government and its head point to the lockdown being intended, among other things, to clamp down on dissent, to kill the protest, to lay the blame at the public’s feat rather than with the prime minister.”
The weekly protests have drawn thousands, and at times tens of thousands, to Balfour Street and nearby Paris Square.
In Saturday’s latest rally, anti-corruption protesters were joined by independent business owners, including restaurateurs and owners of gyms and event halls outraged over the prospect of a new lockdown and potential irreversible economic harm it would entail.
While the focus of the demonstration remained opposition to Netanyahu and alleged government corruption, many of the protesters chanted against the lockdown.