Anti-Netanyahu Protesters Warn of 'Anti-democratic' Coronavirus Lockdown Ahead of Vote

Dismayed by the government's COVID-19 crisis management, demonstrators in Jerusalem and across Israel call on 'prime minister who isn’t doing his job' to resign

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Anti-government protesters near the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, September 12, 2020.
Anti-government protesters near the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, September 12, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Jerusalem and across Israel on Saturday, for the 12th week in a row, calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign amid corruption charges and an impending coronavirus lockdown.

Protesters, fewer than in previous weeks, gathered near the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, slamming the government for mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis and Netanyahu for preoccupation with his ongoing trial in three criminal cases.

Police clashed with protesters, detaining nine people.

Demonstrations also took place near Netanyahu's private residence in Caesarea and at major intersections and bridges across the country. City inspectors in Netanya reportedly removed signs and flags belonging to protesters, citing city by-laws.

Netanyahu critics have argued that the lockdown is intended to suppress the popular opposition and reduce crowd numbers at demonstrations.

Anti-Netanayhu protesters in Jerusalem, September 11, 2020.
Anti-Netanayhu protesters in Jerusalem, September 11, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Yoel Adami, one of the organizers, said the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis “proves just how justified our protest is – we have a prime minister who isn’t doing his job because he’s preoccupied with his own [legal] issues.”

Mor, a resident of the northern town of Tivon, joined a small protest on a bridge over a highway in her area. Netanyahu, she argued, "is leading anti-democratic moves," pointing specifically at a proposed two-week lockdown: "It won't help, and he's not doing it because he wants to keep us safe from the coronavirus, but due to personal interests."

On Sunday, as Netanyahu will depart for a ceremony in Washington to sign normalization deals with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, demonstrations are expected outside Israel's international airport. “Just before lockdown, instead of dealing with the disaster he has created, Netanyahu is running off for four days of campaigning in the United States,” organizers said in a statement. “A true leader would have stayed to look after his people.”

The anti-Netanyahu movement has gained momentum during the coronavirus crisis. Israel now tops world rankings in the number of new COVID-19 cases per capita, but many oppose the lockdown that is to go into effect on Tuesday, pending government approval. Many Israelis from across the political spectrum believe that another lockdown will only exacerbate the economic fallout and that there are less disruptive ways to manage the pandemic.

Last week, thousands gathered in Jerusalem and at least 12 protesters – including prominent artist and activist Zeev Engelmayer – were arrested. 

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