Thousands of anti-Netanyahu Protesters Gather Amid Warnings of Violence Against Protesters

Protests across the country follow report by three TV channels which alleged that the PM's safety was compromised during a demonstration, even though police statements in court made no such claim

Nir Hasson
Bar Peleg
Noa Shpigel
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Hundreds of Israelis march in protest againt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, January 1, 2021
Hundreds of Israelis march in protest againt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, January 1, 2021Credit: Emil Salman
Nir Hasson
Bar Peleg
Noa Shpigel

Thousands of Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday at various junctions and bridges across Israel for the 29th week in a row, with demonstrations also having taken place outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem and his private residence in Caesarea. 

Saturday's protests followed a report that was aired on Friday on Israel's three major news programs, which alleged that last week’s demonstrations posed a threat to the prime minister. The protests also came on the heels of Friday's announcement by the Jerusalem District Court that the next hearing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, set for Wednesday, has been postponed indefinitely, citing coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

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As dozens of protesters marched through the Meditech plaza in the central city of Holon, they were pepper sprayed by three youths, one of whom, a 23-year-old resident of the city, was subsequently arrested by the police. 

The police also arrested a young man on suspicion of attacking a demonstrator in the central Israel city of Kfar Yona. According to an eyewitness, there were two incidents: one attacker was detained and the police are searching for the second one.

He said an 18-year-old man in the intersection in Kfar Yona "approached a girl who was arranging the flags, stepped on them and flung them to the ground." Once the eyewitness confronted him, and took out his mobile phone to film the incident, the assailant pushed him and threw his phone to the ground. 

A police officer then arrived at the scene to gather a testimony, "and then another man came to the same girl again and started clutching onto to her and pushing her, and he was detained," the eyewitness added. 

This week, activists from the protest movement reported that the police blocked off roads to Jerusalem, preventing demonstrators from entering the city. According to the activists, the police told them that entry to the city for the purpose of protesting was only permitted from 5:30 P.M.

A statement from Crime Minister, a key bloc within the protest movement, ahead of Saturday night's demonstration called on the police to be extra vigilant in protecting demonstrators from "incensed Netanyahu supporters," amid the increased incitement and comparisons of the protest movement to Trump supporters’ breach of Capitol Hill on Wednesday. "The writing is on the wall and the police should wake up," they wrote.

Ahead of the demonstrations, the "Rise Israel" protest group said: "It is very unfortunate that while the demonstrators are trying to defend democracy, Netanyahu, a close friend of Trump, is busy inciting against them and eliminating democracy in order to avoid trial. The harsh scenes from the United States must serve as a clear warning sign of the price of incitement, populism and the cult of personality."

According to Friday's reports, the prime minister and his family were evacuated to a safe room after an attempt by demonstrators to break into the compound of his residence last week. 

However, the protesters did not appear to try to breach any barriers. As part of what they call “the siege on Balfour,” they sought to demonstrate near the permanent barrier outside the prime minister’s house, as opposed to the designated police area. 

Over the last two weeks, the protesters began their activities earlier in the afternoon, in anticipation of police deployment. The demonstrators managed to reach the barricade before they were forcibly evacuated by police and eight people were arrested. However, police did not claim they were trying to break into the prime minister's house in court. 

The Black Flag movement, one of the main groups in the protest movement, released a statement demanding that the “news channels correct the lie that was aired."

“In recent months, there has been a tough and brutal campaign of incitement against the demonstrators protesting against government corruption. As a result of the incitement, there have been hundreds of documented cases of assault. The way to halt this process and to get Israel back on track is to impose term limits and to launch an uncompromising war on the culture of lies and corruption of the Netanyahu government,” the Black Flag movement’s statement continued. 

In a statement issued by the Movement for Quality Government ahead of Saturday evening's demonstrations, the group did not mince words: "Netanyahu imposed a tight lockdown on us a few days before an important hearing in his trial and indeed succeeded in causing it to be postponed. How can we believe that the decision on the lockdown was made in a matter-of-fact manner and was not driven by extraneous considerations?"

Protesters gathered at a bridge in Israel, January 9, 2021Credit: Ofer Vaknin

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