Police drag away protesters blocking Knesset at rally calling for new elections

No arrests at second demonstration this month; outgoing Labor head Merav Michaeli says she wants to ‘move government’ on hostage issue as pressure on Netanyahu appears to grow

Police haul an elderly protester off the street near the Knesset on January 22, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)
Police haul an elderly protester off the street near the Knesset on January 22, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

Police forcibly dispersed dozens of anti-government demonstrators blocking access to the Knesset in Jerusalem Monday morning, the latest sign of resurgent opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Around 100 people had gathered outside the parliament building to call for new elections and Netanyahu’s ouster after over three months of war, accusing his government of failing to prioritize freeing the 132 hostages seized on October 7 who remain in captivity in Gaza.

The protest had been authorized by police, but after an hour or so, demonstrators moved beyond crowd control barricades and onto a road leading to the Knesset building and sat down to prevent anyone from passing.

Law enforcement removed the demonstrators from the street by their arms and legs one by one. Protesters shouted at the police, calling them “criminals” who have “destroyed the country.”

Though small, the group of demonstrators represented a cross-section of the political spectrum, from former Likud stalwarts to activists opposed to Israel’s presence in the West Bank, underlining the broad base of opposition to Netanyahu and his handling of the war against Hamas in Gaza.

The demonstration marked the second time this month that protesters demanding new elections have been forcibly removed by police for blocking the main access road to the Knesset.

Demonstrators block the main access road to the Knesset in protest of the government on January 22, 2024. (Sam Sokol/Times of Israel)

In contrast to the earlier protest, there were no arrests Monday.

One man holding a cane appeared to suffer an injury to his arms while being carried off.

Massive protests against Netanyahu, who is on trial in three graft cases, and his hardline government, which has tried to pass a controversial overhaul of the judiciary, largely faded following the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel, which plunged the region into war.

Some 1,200 people were killed in the massacre across southern Israel and another approximately 250 were abducted into Gaza, where 132 remain, according to Israeli officials.

However, recent weeks have seen growing demonstrations seeking new elections, including a series of rallies across the country Saturday night. Much of the opposition has centered on the government’s failure to see the hostages freed.

Protesters accused the coalition parties in power of being “traitors who have given up on the hostages.”

Mor Shamgar, who led the crowd outside the Knesset Monday in fiery chanting, said she had voted Likud until Netanyahu rose to power within the party.

She accused Netanyahu of making wartime decisions to keep himself in power, rather than looking after the interests of Israeli citizens.

Mentioning Netanyahu’s two sons, Shamgar said that “if Yair Netanyahu were to help clean up in Be’eri, or if Avner Netanyahu went to Kfar Aza to help pick fruits and vegetables,” she might begin to trust the prime minister. “Until then he’s not worthy.”

Drummers at an anti-government protest outside the Knesset on January 22, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Also among the protesters was Dani Danieli, a Jerusalemite activist who supports Palestinian statehood.

“We of course oppose Bibi, our common denominator is clear, this is a protest against the government,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “But… we are also asking others not to forget even for a second that the core problem is the occupation.”

Outgoing Labor party head Merav Michaeli joined the demonstration but left the scene by the time protesters began blocking the Knesset entrance.

She said she was there to “move this government,” with her party planning a no-confidence motion later in the day over the hostage issue.

Labor party leader MK Merav Michaeli leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

“The return of the hostages is not a question, it is the number one obligation of this government. The hostages were abandoned and kidnapped on its watch, and so it has to do everything to return them,” she told The Times of Israel.

At a faction meeting later, she said the party had held back from putting a no-confidence motion forward since October 7. “But for 108 days we have seen that this government is busy with everything… but the hostages,” she said.

In a joint statement earlier Monday, the heads of the coalition parties declared that they would “not take part in political shows during wartime,” including the debate and vote on Labor’s motion, which garnered only 18 votes in the 120-seat plenum.

Only 15% of Israelis want Netanyahu to stay in office after the war on Hamas in Gaza ends, according to an Israel Democracy Institute survey in December.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence and an anti-Netanyahu message taped to the wall of a tent erected by hostage families outside the Knesset on January 22, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Monday’s protest took place next to a tent erected by family members of hostages who were kidnapped into Gaza by Hamas on October 7.

Last month, law enforcement arrested a man for attempting to light the hostage families’ tent on fire after seeing social media posts displaying protest signs at the site.

Today, Israel’s Declaration of Independence hung on the outer wall of the tent next to a sign that read: “Bibi, the blood of the murdered is on your hands!”

Sam Sokol and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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