For the second straight weekend, Israelis living in the United States and other countries around the world joined the wave of protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denouncing the corruption charges against him and his government’s failed handling of the coronavirus crisis.
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Demonstrations were held on Sunday in Boston, Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Miami, as well as in major cities outside the United States.
Over the summer, anti-government protests in Israel have spread from several dozen activists calling on Netanyahu to resign over corruption charges, to mass rallies across the country. The popular momentum has been fueled by a severe economic crisis and political instability that could lead the country to a fourth election campaign in under two years.
On Saturday, more than 10,000 protesters gathered in Jerusalem near Netanyahu's official residence and called for his resignation for the fourth week in a row of mass demonstrations.
The protests demanding that Netanyahu resign over his corruption charges have been notable for their relative intensity and allegations of police misconduct, as well as violent assaults on protesters who say their aggressors were right-wing extremists.
The next session in Netanyahu's corruption trial will take place on December 6, followed by the evidentiary phase of the trial, which will start in January 2021, with three sessions a week. The prime minister is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Last week, for the first time, the wave of protests went global after Israelis living in San Francisco, New York, London and Berlin organized demonstrations in solidarity with the protesters in Israel.
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The largest demonstration was held next to the Golden Gate Bridge in Northern California, where more than 150 Israelis — mostly workers in the Bay Area’s high-tech industry — gathered with Israeli flags and signs in Hebrew calling on Netanyahu to resign. They were there again this Sunday, reportedly drawing more participants.
“We had people from all age groups, from pensioners to young children who came with their parents," Offir Gutelzon, one of the organizers, told Haaretz. "It was a great atmosphere, we knew about all the other protests that already took place before and felt good to close out this weekend of demonstrations.”
One protester who recently landed from Israel to visit family members in the area, and who had participated in the demonstrations in front of Netanyahu’s official residence in Balfour Street in Jerusalem, addressed the crowd, Gutelzon said. “It was a very nice reinforcement, she gave a speech about the protests in Israel and the police violence. It was a source of inspiration for everyone.”
The protests spread to new locations this weekend, starting with demonstrations in Boston and Miami that were held on Friday. On Saturday, more than 50 Israelis also gathered in Basel, Switzerland, outside of a historical hotel that housed the Fifth Zionist Congress in 1901.
Ofir Shner, one of the protesters in Basel, told Haaretz: “We decided to go out and demonstrate because we feel that we can’t sit quiet, we have to join the protests and provide some support to those who are demonstrating in Israel.”
“We chose, symbolically, to hold our demonstration next to the famous balcony where Herzl was photographed looking into the horizon, because we want to remind people of the values that our country was founded on and we are fighting to preserve: democracy, solidarity and honesty,” she said.
The Israeli consulate in Los Angeles and the embassy in Washington, D.C., also saw their first protests this weekend, adding the U.S. capital to the map of demonstrations.
On Sunday evening, dozens of Israelis stood in front of the local Israeli consulate, holding signs in Hebrew stating: “No to corruption, no to incitement, no to hatred, no to Netanyahu’s government,” and “Bibi step down”.
Moran Stern, an Israeli Ph.D. student living in Washington, told Haaretz: “I joined the demonstration first of all as an act of solidarity with those who are protesting in Israel. This is the most important protest wave since Israel was founded. It’s about the very essence of Israel, and people need to choose what side they’re on.”
Stern, like many of the Israelis taking part in the demonstrations, flew to Israel multiple times last year in order to vote in the country’s three election cycles. He added that the demonstrators in Washington hope to make their gathering outside the embassy into a tradition, just like the gathering at hundreds of bridges and main junctions across Israel every Saturday.
The demonstrators outside the embassy held signs in Hebrew and English, stating: “No doubt, Bibi out”, and “It’s good to protest for our country.” They flew blue-and-white Israeli flags next to black flags, the symbol of the protest wave in Israel. This is the first time in years that Israelis organized a demonstration against the Israeli government in front of the embassy. Smaller demonstrations also took place in Sydney, London and Toronto.
Etai Beck, CEO of a high-tech company and one of the organizers of last week’s demonstration in San Francisco, told Haaretz that “maybe we won’t be able to do it every week, but we want to do it on a regular basis until Netanyahu is gone.”