Israelis Protest Netanyahu-Gantz Government on Eve of High Court Hearing

Protesters say parts on unity deal may be illegal ■ Separate rallies across the country protest inadequate economic response to the coronavirus crisis

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A protester wearing a mask holds a sign depicting Netanyahu and Gantz in Rabin square, May 2, 2020.
A protester wearing a mask holds a sign depicting Netanyahu and Gantz in Rabin square, May 2, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

About a thousand Israelis took to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the unity government deal between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz Saturday, a day before the High Court of Justice begins hearing petitions against the proposed government.

The so-called "Black Flag" protests were organized by the Movement for Quality Government under the slogan “Saving the court, saying no to corrupt government”. Protesters carried signs that read "We're sick of corruption" and "emergency government, corruption government". At the mention of members of Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party the crowd booed and shouted, "Shame!"

Smaller demonstrations against the proposed unity government were held in several other cities.

Among the speakers at the rally, retired Brig. Gen. Nehemiah Dagan said, "We are more than half of this nation, and we must force the Knesset to legislate a law preventing a criminal suspect from serving as prime minister, just like ministers can't. And if the court can't address the morality clause, then we must head to Jerusalem and our massive numbers will shake the foundations."

Professor Anat Admati, an economist at Stanford University, joined the crowd to protest the proposed government. "We have a situation in which a government and a coalition deal trample democracy and waste public funds in the midst of a difficult and unprecedented epidemic," she said. "We're seeing the situation exploited for the sake of a wasteful government and to give power for a man under criminal indictment. People with power often forget who gave them that power, and that is the definition of corruption."

Protesters maintain social distancing at a rally against the Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, Rabin Square, May 2, 2020.
Protesters maintain social distancing at a rally against the Netanyahu-Gantz unity government, Rabin Square, May 2, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

“The battle for the image of the State of Israel will be fought at the High Court and in the streets,” said the movement’s chairman, Eliad Shraga. “Israel is too precious for us to leave in the hands of a criminal defendant.”

His organization is one of the advocacy groups that has filed a legal challenge to the High Court. The groups are asking the court to ban any indicted politician, including Netanyahu, from being allowed to form a new government. They also say that parts of the coalition deal are illegal.

If the court strikes down the coalition deal, Israel could be plunged into a fourth consecutive election in just over 12 months.

Tomer Naor, also of the Movement for Quality Government, said that political leaders are using the coronavirus crisis to “form an over-sized government with 36 ministers... while every fourth Israeli doesn’t know how they are going to feed their kids next week.”

, some 2,000 protesters attended a similar protest while maintaining social distancing protocols. Protesters waved Israeli flags and black flags, in honor of which the protests have been dubbed "Black Flag" protests, and held signs calling out Netanyahu for corruption.

 spoke at the protest, charging Netanyahu with “destroying Israel’s Knesset.” He also warned of attacks against Supreme Court justices, fueled by Netanyahu’s rhetoric, and called on the premier to “stop the violent onslaught against Supreme Court justices and the High Court of Justice. The responsibility is yours.”

Shikma Schwartzman, one of the organizers, called out Gantz for “trampling over Israel’s Basic Laws” in accepting Netanyahu’s unity deal. “Gantz, for once, promise – and fulfill your promise,” she said. “Ensure there is one law for all

Protesters against the Netanyahu-Gantz unity government in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, May 2, 2020.
Protesters against the Netanyahu-Gantz unity government in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, May 2, 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Economic fallout

Meanwhile, demonstrations were held in Tel Aviv’s Charles Clore Park, Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva by self-employed Israelis, protesting the government’s inadequate response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis. The demonstrations were organized by a coalition of professional unions, labor organizations and advocacy groups.

The organizations, led by Standing Together, presented a list of demands. The primary request is that the government give furloughed workers a hundred percent of the salary they received prior to the coronavirus crisis. “What the government has given so far is like paracetamol to a cancer patient.”

Protesters in Charles Clore Park, Tel Aviv, May 2, 2020.

Organizers at the Tel Aviv protest said, "This is a national emergency. More than a million are unemployed, hundreds of thousands of independents don't know how they'll pull through, renters and mortgage holders do not know how they will pay the next month."

Some 2,000 people took part in the Tel Aviv protest and several hundred attended the protest in Be'er Sheva. Protesters carried red flags and signs that read, "When the government is against the people, the people are against the government" and "100 percent and not one shekel less."

Protest organizers said, "This is a coming together of many movements that, until now, worked alone. We all understand that to shake the government out of its apathy – when over a million of people have lost their income all at once, when they don't know how they'll pay rent, electricity or buy food – now is the time for us to work together."

Small-business owners protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, Tel Aviv, April 26, 2020.
Small-business owners protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, Tel Aviv, April 26, 2020. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

On Friday, clashes took place between Ramle and police officers for the second consecutive day, as the traders protested the continued closure of markets. 

, hundreds demonstrated in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem against the government's response to the economic crisis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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