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Thousands take part in weekly anti-Netanyahu protest

Organizers say size of crowd swelled from previous weeks amid anger after police on Thursday forcibly cleared a sit-in in preparation for a right-wing event

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on August 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on August 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Some 5,000 people gathered Friday to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside his official residence in Jerusalem, calling on him to resign.

The Friday protests have become a weekly ritual, but this week saw a larger than usual turnout, which organizers attributed to police on Thursday forcibly clearing a sit-in of anti-Netanyahu protesters outside the residence in preparation for a right-wing event. Among those removed by police were former Shin Bet chief Carmi Gillon and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel.

“They are trying to put out our protest in every way,” said 26-year-old Dana Avraham, one of the younger protest organizers, on Friday. “But we will not stop.”

Although police initially only blocked off Ben Maimon Street and kept Keren Hayesod Street open for traffic, they were soon forced to block off Paris Square too as protesters continued to pile in.

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on August 21, 2020. (Anat Peled)

Unlike the larger Saturday night protest which sometimes ends in clashes between protesters and the police, the Friday afternoon protests — which are called “Kabbalat Shabbat” — end earlier and tend to attract more young families. They also include a variety of artistic displays such as street dancing as well as some well-known speakers.

“In addition to the verdict of the judges, the verdict of history is waiting for you,” called the Israeli writer and intellectual Meir Shalev from the central stage.

“[History] will judge you, not just for bribery, fraud and breach of trust but also for [having] zero values, zero action, selfishness, you divided, you lied, you split, you deceived, you wasted. Go home,” declared Shalev to thunderous cheering from the crowd.

Friday’s protest had a summer camp feeling with children blowing bubbles and building a town out of cardboard. There was also live music and dancing.

Children take part in a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on August 21, 2020. (Anat Peled)

Protesters held up signs such as “Balfour’s New Cleaning Team” which was attached to a broom, and “Bibi [Netanyahu’s nickname], when Israel says, no, she means it!” in reference to the alleged gang rape that took place in Eilat and drew thousands of protesters to the streets across the country on Thursday. Several signs addressing the rape could be seen interspersed among the anti-corruption signs.

Around 6 p.m., when the crowd began to thin out, police reopened the intersection for traffic.

After Thursday’s protest was cleared around 300 Netanyahu supporters demonstrated outside his official residence. Organizers had anticipated a higher turnout, having sought and received permission for 3,000 to rally.

Protesters have been holding regular rallies for several months outside the Prime Minister’s Residence 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 by people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, with crowds in the thousands and rising.

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