Thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday evening in protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as part of ongoing demonstrations over his indictment on corruption charges and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The main protest was taking place outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, where anti-Netanyahu rallies have been held regularly in recent months. TV reports said some 5,000 people had gathered by 8.30 p.m. Hundreds of police officers were deployed at the scene.
Crowd size at the near-daily demonstrations there has usually swelled on Saturday evenings, with police saying 15,000 people took part in last Saturday’s demonstration, the largest yet.
Representatives of independent businesspeople, battered by the pandemic, were joining the Jerusalem protests Saturday, Channel 12 reported.
Another rally was being held near Netanyahu’s private home in the coastal town of Caesarea, with hundreds of participants.
Ahead of the main rallies, smaller protests were held at bridges and highway overpasses across the country.
Earlier Saturday, protesters filed a police complaint against Yona Avrushmi, the killer of left-wing activist Emil Grunzweig, after he called them “germs” in a television interview and suggested that counter-demonstrators “know exactly what to do” about them.
The complaint was lodged by a member of the Crime Minister group, one of the three main groups organizing the protests against Netanyahu. The group also sent an urgent letter to Acting Police Commissioner Motti Cohen urging that Avrushmi be arrested immediately.
Avrushmi, who in 1983 lobbed a hand grenade into a left-wing rally, killing Grunzweig and wounding nine others — among them former Labor Party minister Avraham Burg and Likud minister Yuval Steinitz — told a Channel 12 interviewer in a clip aired on Friday that the protesters are “germs, there’s no argument there… they spread diseases and must be kept away from society.”
Calling them “evil people” and “haters of Israel,” he said: “I hate them and they hate me.”
Avrushmi, who lives in Tel Aviv, said he has no plans to “go to Balfour” to see the protests against Netanyahu but “some young guys are going, and they know what to do, they know exactly what to do.”
Avrushmi was handed a life sentence for the killing and served 27 years in prison before his release in 2011. During a police interrogation after the murder, Avrushmi was quoted as telling officers that the peace activists protesting at the time were “germs that must be eliminated.”
The Crime Minister group demanded that Avrushmi be arrested to “send a clear message of deterrence and zero tolerance to the young people he encouraged.” The group also criticized Channel 12 for broadcasting the interview.
Netanyahu and his supporters have strongly condemned the protesters, branding them “anarchists,” and the premier has also accused them of alleged incitement against him and his family. He has also protested media coverage of the protests, which he claims blows them out of proportion.
In their statement, the Crime Minister group said it was clear that Avrushmi admires Netanyahu and suggested that the premier’s serious comments were being echoed by the convicted killer.
The name of the group is borrowed from a popular slogan at the growing anti-Netanyahu rallies, and references his legal troubles. The premier 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. He has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office.
Along with those at the demonstrations calling on the premier to resign due to his indictment on corruption charges, people protesting the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic have joined the rallies, with crowds in the thousands and rising.
More limited protests calling on Netanyahu to resign were held outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence on Thursday and Friday night.
Recent weeks have seen some incidents of violence by right-wing supporters of Netanyahu. Protesters have also accused police of using excessive force during the demonstrations.
On Thursday, police told the High Court of Justice that it believed it should reject a petition against the demonstrations by dozens of residents of Jerusalem neighborhoods Rehavia and Talbieh, who are seething over the weekly protests near their homes.
Siding with the demonstrators, police told the court that any attempts to curtail the rallies, held several times weekly, would impinge on the freedom to protest.
Police said they would therefore not place a cap on the number of participants, or relocate the protests elsewhere. The force also rebuffed a call to restrict the rallies due to health fears amid the coronavirus pandemic.