Thousands demonstrate across Israel after protest restrictions extended

Anti-Netanyahu protesters gather near their homes in accordance with emergency measures; demonstrator hospitalized after reportedly being pepper-sprayed

A woman holds a placard that reads, 'Go,' right, and a child holds another reading, 'Bring our democracy back,' during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, October 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
A woman holds a placard that reads, 'Go,' right, and a child holds another reading, 'Bring our democracy back,' during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, October 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Thousands of Israelis protested on Thursday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a day after the government extended an emergency provision that bars public gatherings, including the ongoing demonstrations against the premier, for another week.

The “Black Flag” movement, one of the groups leading the protests, said that over one thousand demonstrations were held across Israel in adherence with the restrictions prohibiting Israelis from protesting over a kilometer away from their homes. It said “giant demonstrations” would be held on Saturday, when the weekly rallies against Netanyahu are typically held.

“Every day that Netanyahu sits in the prime minister’s chair is a day that costs the Israeli economy billions of shekels,” the group said in a statement, referring to the restrictions on businesses as part of the national lockdown.

“The time has come for the prime minister to look out for the citizens and not for himself,” it added.

A protester painted the Hebrew word “Go” — an increasingly popular slogan among anti-Netanyahu protesters — in large letters across Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

During a protest at the Bar Ilan Bridge in central Israel, a demonstrator was lightly injured after being attacked with pepper spray, according to Hebrew media reports. He was taken to nearby Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan for treatment.

Police opened an investigation into the incident.

Late Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office said cabinet ministers approved by a telephone vote the extension of the lockdown measures, including the limits on protests. They will remain in place at least until Tuesday.

Israel imposed a nationwide lockdown ahead of the High Holidays last month to rein in a surging coronavirus outbreak. The Knesset passed a law last week allowing the government to declare a special week-long state of emergency to limit participation in assemblies because of the pandemic. The government then declared the state of emergency, limiting all public gatherings to within a kilometer (half a mile) of a person’s home.

Netanyahu has said the restrictions are driven by safety concerns as the country battles a runaway pandemic, but critics and protesters accuse him of tightening the lockdown to muzzle dissent.

Thousands of Israelis have participated in weekly demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem for months this summer, calling on the longtime prime minister to resign while on trial for corruption.

Police scuffle with protesters during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, October 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

Since the restriction was approved last month, tens of thousands of Israelis have staged protests on street corners and public squares near their homes against Netanyahu and against the government’s perceived mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout.

Israel was initially praised for its swift imposition of restrictions in February to curb the spread of the coronavirus. But after reopening the economy and schools in May, new cases increased quickly, and have skyrocketed to one of the highest per capita in the world.

After nearly three weeks of lockdown, the number of daily new cases is gradually decreasing, but infections are still spreading, particularly among the hard-hit ultra-Orthodox community.

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