A group leading the mass demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday dismantled a protest encampment outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem, days before the general elections.
Amir Haskel, the leader of Ein Matzav (No Way), said the organization took down the encampment as it had finished “its historic role.” The tent was set up last May on Jerusalem’s Ben Maimon Street.
“We set up the tent to expel the defendant from Balfour,” Haskel tweeted, referring to Netanyahu’s graft trial and the street where the Prime Minister’s Residence is located. “We did this together with the rest of the protest groups. Israel is going to elections.”
He added: “Now we are focused on getting the people who are asking for change to the polls.”
In remarks to the Haaretz daily, Haskel said Ein Matzav would again put up the tent if Netanyahu secures a victory in Tuesday’s elections and forms the next government, while readying for the possibility that no clear winner will emerge.
“There could now be a dead period for three months. We didn’t want to be led, we wanted to lead. I’ll again stand with my sign in Yavne until we decide on the next step,” he said.
The anti-Netanyahu protests gathered steam last summer after Haskel, a former air force general, and two other protesters were arrested during a rally outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. The arrests sparked widespread outrage and denunciations from prominent public figures, turning Haskel into a symbol of the burgeoning movement.
At its peak in mid-summer, the weekly protests saw tens of thousands take to the streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, with thousands more carrying black flags and protest signs on bridges and intersections across the country.
Saturday’s protest, the last before the March 23 elections, drew one of the largest crowds in weeks.
The protesters have been calling for Netanyahu to resign over his indictment on corruption charges and have criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Netanyahu is standing trial in three separate cases over allegations he received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. The evidentiary stage of the trial is set to begin next month.
The prime minister has denied wrongdoing, claiming without evidence that the charges are an effort by political rivals, the media, prosecutors, and law enforcement to remove him from office.