Thousands of Israelis Protest Against Netanyahu as Business Owners Rejoin Dissent

Self-employed and business owners joined demonstrations in protest of government response to COVID-19: 'If we were bleeding at the start of the crisis, now we are dying'

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Protesters in the  anti-Netanyahu march in Haifa, October 22, 2020.
Protesters in the anti-Netanyahu march in Haifa, October 22, 2020.Credit: rami shllush

Thousands of Israelis called for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night in hundreds of locations across Israel, with major protests taking place in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Over 1,500 protesters marched in Haifa and over a dozen small protests took place at various intersections in Jerusalem. A large event that was to take place at Independence Park in Jerusalem was cancelled after the city denied organizers a permit, saying they did not receive clearance to hold it from the Health Ministry.

A pro-Netanyahu counter protest took place in Holon, with demonstrators waving flags of the Likud party and chanting slogans praising the late anti-Arab extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane. 

Pro-Netanyahu counter-demonstrators in Holon, south of Tel Aviv, October 22, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Police later said they had detained an 18-year-old in Tel Aviv. He was riding a scooter near protesters, and, after arousing the suspicions of undercover police officers, was found to have tear gas and a screwdriver. The police believes he intended to harm protesters.

In Tel Aviv, more than 1,000 demonstrators began marching from Habima Square toward Rabin Square. For the first time since July, some 1,500 business owners and self-employed Israelis joined the anti-Netanyahu demonstration at Rabin Square. 

They are protesting the government's response to COVID-19, demanding an immediate reopening of all businesses and 25 percent compensation for financial losses incurred since the start of the pandemic.

The anti-Netanyahu march in Haifa, October 22, 2020. Credit: rami shllush

"We didn't demonstrate during the lockdown because we didn't want to gather while people are sitting at home. The large protests were unnecessary and caused antagonism," said Dotan Soffer, an owner of a security cameras shop in Petah Tikva. 

"Allies of this protest convened with Netanyahu and the treasury, they were promised some things and thought they would come true. Today they are paying for their sins," said Soffer, explaining that the protest of business owners was divided by sectors, and that the government promised aid packages to certain industries but didn't follow through. 

"After the last protests, we met with the government and treasury, we met with Netanyahu, we made progress. We didn't realize how much they screwed us with this plan," said Hila Poromoza-Rafael , chairwoman of a bars and nightlife association and an owner of three businesses in Tel Aviv. "I later understood that they employed a strategy of divide and conquer, and that the protest needs to be revived. If we were bleeding at the start of the crisis, now we are dying," she said.

Also present at the Tel Aviv protest were sports coaches. "If 20 people are allowed to train - let us train them. Football is not just about the premier and national leagues," said Amir Cohen, vice chairman of an association of coaches. 

The protest in Tel Aviv ended shortly before midnight, with very few confrontations reported between protesters and the police.

On Wednesday night, the Tel Aviv district police called on the protesters to meet with them before the demonstrations to set expectations. The district spokesperson even made her private phone number available in a bid to persuade protest leaders, but the overture was rejected by organizers: "It is better for the police to deal with protecting civilians and demonstrators, who are attacked every night in the streets rather than spreading lies and spins. This is a popular, decentralized and leaderless protest. If the police want to meet leaders, they are welcome to meet them on the streets, there are over a quarter of a million of them."

After a steep incline in attacks against anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, a homeless man with a background of mental health difficulties became the first Israeli to be sentenced to jail for assaulting protesters against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Thursday. He was given an eight-month prison term for throwing stones and assaulting police.

A protester calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, October 22, 2020Credit: Black Flags protest movement

In addition, Haaretz has counted five other indictments being brought against suspects in attacks on protesters. In two of these cases there was a suspected ideological background. One protester has also been charged with assaulting a supporter of Netanyahu at a counterprotest. 

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