Thousands of protesters demonstrated on Saturday evening against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at intersections, bridges and squares across Israel, as weekly demonstrations continued for the 23rd week in a row.
Several thousands gathered outside the prime minister's official residence on Jerusalem's Balfour Street. Demonstrations also took place in Tel Aviv, Caesarea, Holon and other locations across Israel, including the Arab towns of Taibeh, Umm al-Fahm and Kafr Yassif, calling on the prime minister to resign amid corruption charges.
Earlier in the day, a protest convoy of more than 100 cars carrying inflatable submarines and F-35 props set out toward Jerusalem to join the weekly demonstration, from Caesarea, where Netanyahu's private residence is located. They were joined by vehicles from Rosh Ha’ayin, where Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Gantz resides.
As protesters gathered in Caesarea, Amiram Levin, a retired major general, addressed Gantz, who on Sunday had announced that he has established a governmental commission of inquiry into the submarine affair that has become a central element in the protests.
Activists are unsatisfied with the commission established by Defense Minister Benny Gantz this past week, which they argue does not have enough legal powers to take action.
Levin quipped: "Those who have sold and keep selling us the slogan 'Israel comes first,' are groveling once again, while putting Bibi and themselves first, by setting up a fake commission with no powers."
Levin went on to say: "You put Israel last. Defense minister – what a disgrace. Preventing an investigation into the submarine affair is transforming us from a country with corruption to a corrupt country, led by a corrupt regime. We will not agree to this and that's why we are here."
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Once the convoys reached the Hemed Interchange on the way to Jerusalem, where some 200 protesters had gathered, they marched. One protest leader was detained on suspicion of having vandalized property with graffiti.
Two weeks ago, demonstrators confronted the police at the same location, leading to 25 of them being detained. The court issued a restraining order barring many of them from demonstrating at the interchange for 15 days.
Former Shin Bet director and Navy commander Ami Ayalon lashed out at Netanyahu, saying: "You've become a danger to Israel's security. Approving the sale of advanced submarines to Egypt, while keeping the navy chief, the chief of staff and the defense minister in the dark constitutes a serious blow to the security of the State of Israel.
"You are crushing Israeli society. But we are here to tell you: 'take the defendant's seat and fight to prove your innocence," Ayalon said.
In Tel Aviv, the director of the Herzliya Gymnasium, Dr. Zeev Degani, called on the police to resign and become teachers. "I invite the police officers whose current job of suppressing legitimate criticism of the government is inconsistent with their personal values, to leave the police - we have a place in the gymnasium," Degani said. "You can teach citizenship, democracy and human rights."
As a demonstration in the central Israeli town of Nes Ziona drew to a close, a confrontation broke out between demonstrators and 15 young people carrying signs that read "Leftists are Traitors." Witnesses said they cursed the anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, and that a fight had broken out when one of them had struck the car of an anti-Netanyahu demonstrator. Police were called to the scene and separated the groups.
In preparation for the demonstration in Jerusalem, the police blocked traffic leading up to Paris Square, adjacent to Balfour Street. Indictments were filed this week against two prominent anti-Netanyahu demonstrators, Gonen Ben Yitzhak and Bar Benjamin, for their role in organizing the protests. Ben Yitzhak has been charged with obstructing a police officer and prohibited gathering, and Benjamin has been charged with assaulting an officer under aggravated circumstances.
Ahead of the protests, a number of leading member groups of the demonstration movement issued statements expressing their support for the protests and lambasting the prime minister.
The Crime Minister group, of which Ben Yitzhak is a member, said: "The Gonen case illustrates that democracy is deteriorating and the state is diving. Hunting the protesters and turning the police into a political tool illustrates the seriousness of the dangerous processes led by Netanyahu, the clients of dark regimes. Tonight we will prove to the defendant we are determined and he cannot be allowed to crush democracy and evade the serious indictments."
The Black Flag movement said: "Another terrible week has passed for the people of Israel, another week in which Netanyahu crushes the economy and fails to deal with coronavirus, but breaks new records of incitement against the citizens of the country. The citizens of the state deserve hope and unity and a government that passes a budget and works for the citizens."