Thousands of people demonstrated against the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu throughout the country Thursday evening at a series of protests meant to highlight financial woes, police brutality and high-level corruption.
Large protests were held in Tel Aviv and Haifa, and smaller rallies were held in hundreds of other locations. In Holon, far-right counter-protesters faced off with anti-government activists and heckled an opposition Knesset member.
In Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, several hundred self-employed Israelis and business owners were demonstrating against the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic.
These protesters have sought to identify themselves as non-politically aligned but rather everyday Israelis from all walks of life hit hard by the economic consequences of the pandemic.
Several thousand also congregated in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square and marched through the city center to demonstrate against Netanyahu and against police violence.
Protests against Netanyahu have been taking place for many months, both over his criminal trial and his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Saturdays see the largest demonstrations, but rallies are regularly held on Thursdays and Fridays as well.
מאות המפגינים בהבימה יוצאים בצעדה לכיוון כיכר רבין שם נערכת הפגנת העצמאים. להבנתי הם יכפילו את כמות המפגינים שם וינסו לשתות אותם לצעדה. ברקע על בניין ברחוב הוברמן מתנוססות מילות השיר ״בארץ אחת״ של קובי לוריא. עדכונים להמשך הערב יהיו כאן >> pic.twitter.com/uYFz1ZAXzA
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) October 22, 2020
In Haifa, a few thousand also marched through the city.
וכך נראית הצעדה בחיפה בצילום של דרור מאירי pic.twitter.com/NicQHcKYBd
— Noa Shpigel (@NoaShpigel) October 22, 2020
In the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon, dozens of demonstrators and counter-demonstrators confronted each other. The pro-government protesters included members of the far-right La Familia soccer hooligan group.
According to Channel 12 news, Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razvozov arrived at the scene and attempted to calm tensions, but had insults hurled at him, including “You’re not a Jew, you Israel-hating trash.”
The comment appeared to be a slur aimed at the fact that Razvozov immigrated to Israel from Russia.
— אור רביד | Or Ravid (@OrRavid) October 22, 2020
The hard-right demonstrators also accused the anti-government protesters of being “representatives of [the] Islamic State” and “traitors.”
At one point they were heard chanting “Kahane lives,” in reference to late right-wing extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.
One anti-Netanyahu activist said he would not be cowed by the right-wing demonstrators. “We are determined to save the country from the criminal suspect who is trampling democracy and dividing the people,” he told the network.
According to Channel 13 news, recordings and messages obtained by the network showed plans by far-right activists to attack demonstrators, including statements in one closed Whatsapp group threatening to ram and run over rally-goers with vehicles, as well as beat them.
“We’re going to run [them] over big time,” one person said. “We’ll mow down cats and mow down leftists… We’ll carry out a terror attack on them, a pogrom, their story is over.
“We’ll f**k them up and show them who’s boss,” another person wrote. “They screamed to the police like bitches,” another said.
The Black Flags protest movement said it had filed a complaint with police against right-wing activist Ran Karmi Buzaglo, who runs the group in which the threats were made.
Karmi Buzaglo claimed he was ignorant of the threats and did not follow all posts in the “hundreds of Whatsapp groups” of which he is a member. He said he opposed all violence.
Police, for their part, said they took any and all complaints seriously and officers were deployed to keep protesters safe.
Protesters have held weekly rallies calling for the removal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial in three criminal cases for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu has denied the allegations and attacked the police, the justice system, and other officials for what he and his allies term a “witch hunt.”
As demonstrations against Netanyahu have become more dispersed throughout the country, incidents of violence against activists have multiplied, including beatings and multiple attacks using pepper-spray.
Thursday saw an indictment filed against a man accused of pepper-spraying anti-Netanyahu protesters during a rally in Jaffa earlier this month.
On Tuesday, a 34-year old man was charged over a pepper-spray attack on protesters in Ramat Gan earlier this year. A day earlier, a Tel Aviv man, 54, was indicted for the violent assault of anti-government protesters over the weekend. Before that, 20-year-old Felix Eliav was indicted for the attempted stabbing of a protester in July.
On Wednesday, a homeless man in Haifa was given eight months in prison for throwing rocks at anti-Netanyahu protesters, marking the first time someone has been sentenced for attacking Israelis demonstrating against Netanyahu.
Critics of the prime minister say his attacks on the law enforcement system and on the protests against him, coupled with the destabilizing effects of the coronavirus, are major causes for a deeply polarized atmosphere that has settled over Israel, and fear the violence may turn deadly.