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34 held at anti-PM protest; anger over topless woman atop menorah near Knesset

At least 34 people were arrested as clashes broke out after midnight Tuesday as thousands of people gathered in Jerusalem to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government’s policies. One woman sparked outrage after she posed topless on a statue of a menorah at a traffic circle near the Knesset (– not the iconic bronze Knesset Menorah).

Despite largely peaceful protests during which the demonstrators marched to the nearby Knesset and back, police began forcibly clearing people from Paris Square outside Netanyahu’s home at about 1 a.m.

Officers, assisted by mounted police and water cannons, grappled with demonstrators and at least 34 were arrested for breaking the peace and attacking officers, police said.

Before that the demonstrations had a largely carnival mood. Many chanted “no to violence,” while others danced, sang and beat drums, threatening to stay in the streets all night.

The protests brought together a wide range of groups with some demonstrators railing against the government’s handling of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and others calling for the premier to resign over his indictment on graft charges.

The protest was organized by several groups, including restaurant owners angry at the repeated closures forced upon them in recent months, self-employed Israelis who say government support has been insufficient, and the so-called “black flag” anti-corruption protesters against Netanyahu. Dozens also called for justice for an autistic East Jerusalem man Iyad Halak, shot by police in May.

Additionally, some demonstrators protested against proposed legislation that would allow government measures against the coronavirus to take effect without Knesset approval, saying it would remove vital oversight.

Many of the protesters marched from the Prime Minister’s Residence to the nearby Knesset after receiving police permission.

Several protesters climbed on a statue of a menorah near the parliament building. One of the demonstrators posed topless atop the candelabra, provoking outrage from Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, who called for her to be arrested.

“Shame. I stand by every person’s right to protest, demonstrate and express their opinion,” Levin wrote on Facebook. “But no country allows you to desecrate its symbols of state.”

Levin called for her to be “brought to justice, not just to punish her, but also for the educational and civil message that needs to be very clear.”

The protesters climbed on a sculpture of a menorah and a Star of David in a traffic circle just outside the Knesset and not on the iconic bronze Knesset Menorah, which is the state symbol.

The unnamed woman told Nir Hasson, a reporter from the Haaretz newspaper, that she was a social work student.

“Maybe now if I take off my shirt somebody will care about the social workers, it’s meant to change perceptions,” she said.

Israel’s social workers appeared to have reached a deal with the Finance Ministry late Tuesday evening after several hours of negotiations, following a 16 day open-ended labor strike.

Thousands of demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )

Social workers have long complained of what they describe as an unreasonable workload, with low salaries and the constant danger of violence and their union made the decision to strike earlier this month after repeated negotiations with the government failed to produce a change in their working conditions.

A small number of Netanyahu supporters held a counter-demonstration nearby and police closed off several roads around the Prime Minister’s Residence due to the protests.

Hebrew-language media outlets put turnout for the rallies at more than 2,000.

Adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Residence, restaurateurs handed out food to passersby in protest of restrictions on eateries. Earlier Tuesday, the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee reversed a cabinet decision that would bar restaurants from serving patrons on site, limiting them to takeout and delivery.

Some 150 restaurant owners also demonstrated in Haifa against the closures forced upon them in recent months.

The restaurateurs, Jewish and Arab and from various areas of northern Israel, blocked roads and called for compensation and for the government to “resign.”

Tuesday’s protest followed several other recent demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s Residence and elsewhere, amid growing discontent with Netanyahu over his handling of the pandemic and the economic fallout caused by government lockdown measures.

A number of the rallies have seen the blocking of roads by demonstrators and clashes between police and protesters, including over the weekend in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Unemployment in Israel is at some 21 percent — or 850,000 people — and is rising, as restrictions imposed amid record daily coronavirus infections further batter the economy.

Header: A topless protester sits on a menorah statue near the Knesset during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Source: TOI Staff