As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares to fly to Washington on Sunday to attend the signing ceremony of Israel’s normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Israelis living in the U.S. capital were preparing to demonstrate against his visit and call on him to resign from office.
Netanyahu is expected to arrive to Washington Monday and return by Thursday, just in time for the beginning of Israel’s second COVID-19 lockdown this coming weekend. The ceremony at the White House will take place Tuesday, and unlike Israel, the UAE and Bahrain decided it would suffice to send their foreign ministers to the event.
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On Sunday, around the same time that Netanyahu’s flight was expected to leave Ben-Gurion International Airport, dozens of Israelis living in the Washington area gathered for a demonstration in front of the Israeli embassy.
This is the fourth time in recent weeks that Israelis protest against Netanyahu in Washington, joined by others in cities across the globe.
Anti-Netanyahu protests began over the summer in solidarity with the demonstrations that have been taking place in Israel for 12 weeks, drawing thousands every week, protesting Netanyahu’s corruption charges, the economic crisis in Israel and the government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
In July, groups of Israeli expats began organizing demonstrations to support the protesters in Israel. The first demonstration was in San Francisco, where most of the protesters were Israelis working in Silicon Valley. The protests spread to other cities, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto and also European capitals such as London and Berlin.
In Washington, the demonstrations in front of the embassy building were unprecedented – never before had Israeli citizens gathered to protest against their own government, week after week, outside the embassy gates. This week, in addition to the Sunday protest, a demonstration is planned for Tuesday in downtown Washington, at the same time that Netanyahu will be at the White House ceremony.
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“We are calling on Netanyahu to resign because of his criminal indictments and his systematic attacks against Israel’s democratic institutions,” said Offir Guttelzon, an Israeli who lives in the San Francisco area and helped organize the first anti-Netanyahu protest in that city. Guttelzon told Haaretz that dozens of Israelis from other U.S. cities are planning to fly or drive especially to Washington to attend the protest on Tuesday.
“We support the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain, we’re not protesting against that,” he added. “But we want to emphasize that he is an illegitimate leader, he is a prime minister who has been indicted for bribery and fraud, and he is endangering Israel’s standing as a democratic country.” Guttelzon also said the protesters want to make it clear to Netanyahu that “the anger over his failed leadership will not stop at Israel’s borders, it will follow him wherever he goes.”
Over the weekend, demonstrations against Netanyahu were also held in New York, Berlin, Boston, Vancouver and Calgary. On Sunday, there were also protests in Sydney. The organizers hope to add other locations in the coming weeks, and note that each demonstration is the result of an initiative led by a local group of Israelis.
Moran Stern, an Israeli who lives in the Washington area, flew to Israel three times over the past year and a half to vote in the country’s consecutive election cycles. This summer, he has showed up to all the protests in front of the embassy. “Netanyahu is waging war against Israeli democracy,” Stern told Haaretz. “We have to fight back.”
He said the protesters are encouraged that their counterparts in Israel have been going at it for almost four months now. “We have friends and family who are out demonstrating every week in Israel, so we are also here doing our part,” he added.