Tens of thousands of Israelis were protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in over 1,000 socially distanced gatherings throughout the country Saturday, the fourth such event since the government instituted a ban on mass protests as part of the national coronavirus lockdown.
Protest organizers said they expected rallies at 1,219 spots across the nation.
In months of protests against Netanyahu over his corruption charges and handling of the pandemic, Saturday evening rallies have drawn the largest crowds. Since the restriction was approved last month, tens of thousands of Israelis have staged protests on street corners and public squares near their homes.
Since the restriction was approved last month, tens of thousands of Israelis have staged protests on street corners and public squares near their homes.
Channel 12 and Channel 13 reported that Saturday’s protests appeared to be the largest yet.
The “Black Flags” movement said it believed over 200,000 people were participating in rallies, though their claims could not be independently verified.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered at Tel Aviv’s Habima Square, while appearing to make efforts to keep their distance from one another. Dozens of demonstrators filled neighboring streets, clutching signs saying “Let us go,” “Bibi, you’re destroying my future,” or, simply “Go.”
“We want a government that cares about the public,” said Itay Flicker, a Tel Aviv resident. “We are demonstrating because people are really suffering — in terms of health, the economy, and so on. But the government is totally detached from all that.”
Wajdi Haj Yahya, a lawyer who lives in Taybeh, also participates in the protests tonight. A small group of Taybeh residents join Yahya to demonstrate in the northern Arab city’s downtown.
“We’ve previously protested on a bridge outside the city. Tonight we brought it into the city. There’s a lot of fear and frustration with politics, but we think it is important to wake up the Arab public,” Yahya says.
On Saturday afternoon police stopped a protest cycling convoy of some 130 riders from approaching Netanyahu’s home in Caesarea, Kan news reported.
The cyclists carried Israeli and black flags as part of the “Black Flag” protest movement against the premier. Several were fined by officers for breaking lockdown restrictions.
Saturday saw a double challenge for police seeking to enforce social distancing restrictions, facing both mass country-wide protests as well as expected gatherings in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities to celebrate the Simchat Torah holiday.
Previous nights of protests have seen some clashes between protesters and police, as well as cases of physical violence by counter-protesters.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Friday called for more police officers to be stationed at anti-government demonstrations due to a series of assaults on protesters, warning the violence could end in “murder.”
Late Tuesday night, the Prime Minister’s Office said cabinet ministers approved by a telephone vote the extension of 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.
Netanyahu’s Likud party said the protests “cannot cover the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu is successfully leading the lockdown that is bringing down morbidity,” saying many European nations appeared headed for a new closure as well.
However, the protest ban appears to have only further motivated demonstrators, with tens of thousands rallying throughout the country last week.
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.
As part of the ongoing national efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, police handed out 7,523 fines to Israeli citizens.
5,477 individuals were fined for leaving their homes in violation of Ministry of Health regulations. 1,486 fines were handed out for failing to wear face coverings in the public domain.
95 fines were handed out to individuals for leaving mandated quarantine, 290 to people found in forbidden areas, and 64 to businesses that remained open despite the nation-wide lockdown.
Header: Activists protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Dizengoff Square Tel Aviv on October 10, 2020 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Source: Arutz Sheva and TOI