Thousands Protest Israeli Gov't Handling of Economic Crisis, Call for Netanyahu's Resignation in Jerusalem

Restaurant owners angered by coronavirus restrictions and what they call impossible conditions join anti-Netanyahu protesters ■ Police arrest 34 for suspected disorderly conduct, allegedly assaulting officers

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Israeli protesters clash with police during a demonstration against the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020
Israeli protesters clash with police during a demonstration against the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020Credit: Emil Salman

Thousands of protesters gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday, before marching to the Knesset, supervised by a major police presence.

Israel Police said they arrested 34 protesters in all for suspected disorderly conduct and for allegedely assaulting officers during the protest. By Wednesday afternoon, all had been released.

At about 12:30 A.M., police began dispersing the protesters using water cannons and mounted officers.

A protester standing atop a statue across from the Knesset during a demonstration against the Israeli government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, July 21, 2020
A protester standing atop a statue across from the Knesset during a demonstration against the Israeli government's handling of the coronavirus crisis, July 21, 2020Credit: Emil Salman

Tuesday's demonstration is composed of two protest groups, one calling for Netanyahu's resignation over the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and another led by restaurateurs who are distributing food and marching against the government's handling of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 20 to 30 counter-protesters, Netanyahu loyalists carrying Likud party flags, were also present near the residence, known in Israel simply by the street name, Balfour.

The main protest organizers requested permission to march from there to the Knesset building. They set off around 8:00 P.M., and eventually thronged the square in front of the Israeli parliament, many of them not wearing masks. They waved black and Israeli flags, while shouting "bribery, fraud, breach of trust" and "capital, government, underworld."

Joint List lawmaker Ofer Cassif, the only Jewish member on the predominantly Arab list, who represents the far-left Hadash faction, came out to meet them outside the parliament building.

"Friends and comrades... you are the heroes, you are the light that illuminates the darkness we are in," Cassif told protesters. "Not everyone has the same political positions, but we are united in one thing: We must all fight together for a democratic Israel." 

Unlike previous demonstrations, there were no physical confrontations with security forces, and around 9:30 P.M., police, led by the Jerusalem district commander, evacuated the piazza.

Protesters asking for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation in front of his official residence, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.
Protesters asking for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation in front of his official residence, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

Protesters eventually marched back towards the Prime Minister's residence, where the began blocking the roads around Paris Square.

Demonstrations have become a regular occurrence on Balfour Street. They have also become increasingly tense, with police clashing with protesters.

They have grown in size in recent days, as increasing distress caused by the coronavirus-induced economic crisis compelled other groups and individuals to join

Protesters cheer during a demonstration asking for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation in front of his official residence, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.
Protesters cheer during a demonstration asking for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's resignation in front of his official residence, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman

On Tuesday, restaurateurs angered by the government’s demand that they shut their establishments to curb a second wave were present. They are also asking to revoke what they say are impossible conditions the government set for allowing restaurants to operate.

Dozens of restaurant owners and workers also demonstrated in the northern port city of Haifa, blocking a major artery during a protest organized by Hadash. "They cannot keep closing restaurants without offering compensation," Fadi Najjar, owner of Douzan restaurant in the city's German Colony neighborhood, told Haaretz. "I will not let them destroy my life's work."

Earlier, 61 residents of Jerusalem's Rehavia neighborhood, where the prime minister's residence is located, petitioned the High Court to prevent the demonstrations. "Children, the elderly, young people and adults alike... find themselves taken hostage by a protest that has become  violent... with complete disregard for the coronavirus raging around the world," the petitioners wrote. The state must respond to the petition by August 5.

A protester waves a black flag during a demonstration asking for Netanyahu's resignation in front of the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.
A protester waves a black flag during a demonstration asking for Netanyahu's resignation in front of the Knesset, Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

A week prior, some 2,000 protesters demonstrated outside the official residence. Fifteen were arrested after protesters began blocking the streets surrounding the area.

That same evening, thousands of self-employed people protesting the government’s handling of the economic crisis demonstrated in Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park before marching through the city to Habima Square; thirteen protesters were arrested after clashing with police.

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