Turnout lower as thousands rally against Netanyahu two days after UAE deal

Anti-graft group dismisses relevance of Israel-UAE deal to normalize ties, and demands: ‘No flights to the Gulf, jobs in Israel!’; 10 arrested

A protester holds up a sign at an anti-Netanyahu protest in Jerusalem. August 15, 2020 (Anat Peled/Times of Israel)
A protester holds up a sign at an anti-Netanyahu protest in Jerusalem. August 15, 2020 (Anat Peled/Times of Israel)

Protesters rallied Saturday evening at a number of sites across Israel as part of ongoing demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his indictment on graft charges and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The main protest was held outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, which has been the center of the demonstrations against the premier. Hebrew media reports put turnout in the thousands, with Army Radio estimating the crowd size at 10,000 protesters.

It was the eighth consecutive week that a large anti-Netanyahu protest was held there. But the turnout for the rally — which came two days after Netanyahu reached agreement with the United Arab Emirates to normalize Israel-UAE relations, and agreed to suspend his plans for partial West Bank annexation —  seemed markedly down on last Saturday’s.

Ten protesters were arrested around midnight, when police began dispersing the remaining demonstrators, said Lt. Col Ofer Shomer. Most of the arrests came as some of the protesters sought to begin marching towards Agron and King George Streets, which police said was an illegal act. Others were arrested while refusing to leave Paris Square. Asked how they had broken the law, Shomer said they refused to leave after the police had declared the gathering illegal.

Police remove protesters from a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, August 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police and protesters clashed during the dispersal, with video from the scene showing officers forcibly carrying at least one person from the rally as bystanders called out, “Shame!”

Many of the signs at Saturday night’s Jerusalem protest mentioned Thursday night’s agreement by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations. Protesters worried that Netanyahu might get a political boost from the agreement.

Tal, 28, said the timing of the peace agreement seemed suspicious.”It’s no coincidence that Netanyahu announced this now, now that the people have begun to wake up,” she said. “He thinks he can distract us.”

Ran Levi, a 33-year-old Tel Aviv resident, held a sign saying, “Peace doesn’t clean up corruption.”

“Of course I welcome peace, and I’m glad that it happened. But that doesn’t make up for the fact that our prime minister has three indictments against him,” Levi said.

Arnon Maoz, 41, from Tel Aviv dressed up as a “Jewish sheikh” in response to the agreement signed between the UAE and Israel, donning the white clothes that the biblical Jewish high priests would wear, along with a traditional Arab headcovering, or keffiyeh.

A protester at an anti-Netanyahu rally in Jerusalem on August 15, 2020 (Anat Peled/Times of Israel)

“They live under a dictatorship,” he said of the UAE, adding that “two dictators closed a peace deal over a Zoom call and even the [Israeli] foreign minister didn’t know about it.”

“Fly Emirates and never come back,” read one sign at the rally. “If there’s no bread, fly to Dubai,” said another.

Also attending the protest were representatives of event hall owners, event producers, and suppliers for entertainment events, who have been hurt economically by the lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak. The unemployed protesters demanded the government allow them to return to work, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on August 15, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A few hundred people also protested near Netanyahu’s private residence in the coastal city of Caesarea.

Ahead of the evening’s demonstrations, protesters rallied on bridges, highway overpasses and at traffic junctions around the country.

In the northern city of Hadera, police detained a suspect for throwing poppers toward a group of anti-Netanyahu protesters, Hebrew media reports said.

The “Black Flag” anti-corruption group, one of the organizers of the protests, issued a statement ahead of the demonstrations dismissing Thursday’s US-brokered agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize diplomatic ties.

“While the prime minister is busy arranging flights to pools in Abu Dhabi for himself, the people of Israel are collapsing [due to] the failure to manage the economic and health crises. No flights to the Gulf, jobs in Israel!” the group said.

Demonstrators at a protest Friday outside the Prime Minister’s Residence said they wouldn’t let news of the historic deal with the UAE distract from what they said were Netanyahu’s failures.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near his home in the coastal town of Caesarea, on August 15, 2020. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

Protesters have been holding regular rallies for several months outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, as well as in Tel Aviv and other areas, calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges. They have been joined in recent weeks by people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds in the thousands and rising.

Netanyahu is on trial for a series of cases in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office.

Last Saturday tens of thousands took part in protests across the country. The main protest took place outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. Hebrew media reports put turnout at over 15,000 people, while organizers estimated the crowd at some 32,000 people, based on the number of armbands given out to demonstrators as they entered the square.

That demonstration appeared to be the largest yet of a growing movement that has seen thousands take to streets to rally against Netanyahu over the past month. The number of families with children was especially prominent at the Jerusalem demonstration, in addition to the groups of young people. Many activists dressed up as extraterrestrials, in mocking homage to the prime minister’s son Yair Netanyahu, who earlier last week derided the protesters as “aliens.”

Representatives of independent businesspeople joined the protest, as no separate demonstration of those battered economically by the pandemic was held. Organizers instead called for a single, unified demonstration to be held at the Prime Minister’s residence.

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