With Coalition Talks Underway, anti-Netanyahu Protests Draw Smaller Crowds Than Usual

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Jerusalem, on Saturday.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Jerusalem, on Saturday.Credit: Emil Salman
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

Several hunderd Israelis took to the streets on Saturday to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hold on power amid his corruption trial and an ongoing political stalemate, but the protest movement that only months ago brought out tens of thousands of people to its weekly demonstrations seems to be dwindling.

A group of demonstrators gathered in front of the Knesset and marched toward the prime minister's official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, while others gathered outside his private home in Caesarea, as well as in junctions and on bridges throughout the country in smaller numbers than usual.

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At last week's protest, the first since Israel's inconclusive March 23 election, the crowd called for a formation of a government of "change," comprising of parties opposing the prime minister, rather than plunge the country into a fifth back-to-back election cycle.

After demonstrations resumed last week following a three-week truce, the prominent Black Flag protest movement called for a government that will "serve the citizens and not the ruler."

President Reuven Rivlin tasked Netanyahu last week with forming a government after he received the highest number of recommendations, at 52 out of 120 Knesset members. Even with seven seats from Naftali Bennett's Yamina party added to his bloc – which Netanyahu hasn't managed to secure so far – he still remains short of the necessary 61-seat majority to form a coalition.

This prompted Netanyahu on Friday to call on Gideon Sa'ar, who broke away from Likud ahead of the March election, to return to the party, assuring him he would be welcome with open arms.

Earlier on Friday, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich redoubled on his commitment not to sit in a government supported by Mansour Abbas’ United Arab List, an Islamist faction that broke away from the Arab-majority Joint List in a bid to increase Arab Israelis' political influence.

This means that the prime minister’s only option, besides recruiting individual defectors, would be to persuade Sa’ar to backtrack on his campaigning promises, though Sa'ar has already rejected the possibility that he or his party members would join a Netanyahu-led government.

Meanwhile, the evidentiary phase of Netanyahu's corruption trial began in April and is slated to continue over the coming weeks. The prime minister is on trial for corruption, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases.

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