Protesters calling for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation gathered outside his official residence and his beach house in central Israel while thousands flooded intersections across the country last weekend. Some held signs that read, “Crime Minister,” and, “Make Israel Free Again,” and many pledged to return to the streets this weekend. Police said they detained at least 12 demonstrators and cleared out others from the prime minister’s residence.
Despite the formation of a new coalition government in April that has Netanyahu’s party sharing power with its biggest rival, Israelis remain frustrated. The leadership’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, a faltering economy, and Netanyahu’s corruption trial have sparked what have been the largest anti-government protests the country has seen in nearly a decade.
After the first COVID-19 cases surfaced in March, Israeli authorities enforced strict border and health measures, reducing the country’s number of active infections to single digits by early May. But after lifting restrictions and reopening the economy, Israel now faces a more deadly second wave, reporting nearly 2,000 new cases each day in late July. The nation of 9 million people has recorded more than 78,000 confirmed cases.
Israel also is battling an economic crisis with an unemployment rate of 21 percent. Netanyahu tried to quell criticism by announcing cash handouts to about 1.2 million Israelis under the government’s coronavirus stimulus plan. But many have dismissed the offer as a bribe and an insufficient solution.
Meanwhile, the prime minister continues to fight accusations of corruption. Netanyahu has denied the charges, which include collecting more than $1 billion in bribes to obtain nuclear submarines from a German company and two cases involving deals with media companies in exchange for positive coverage of his administration. He is the first Israeli prime minister indicted while in office and has a hearing scheduled in his case beginning on Dec. 6.
Last week, an Israeli artist set up a pop-up life-size sculpture of Netanyahu called the “Last Supper of Democracy.”
At a Cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu denounced the protesters and accused the media of fueling unrest and ignoring the “wild and unfettered incitement” of the demonstrations. He said the protests contribute to the spread of the coronavirus and called for an end to all violence.
The same day, a court ordered the prime minister’s son Yair Netanyahu to remove a post on Twitter revealing the names and contact information of protesters and calling on people to stage counterdemonstrations outside their homes. The order banned him from harassing the demonstrators for six months.
Joel Rosenberg, an Israeli American and co-founder of the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem, noted that the majority of protesters wanted Netanyahu out of office before the latest upheaval, adding that the government needs to focus on the crisis on the ground.
“I don’t think the protests yet reflect a broader view that people are ready to go to the polls over it, but it is rising,” Rosenberg said. “The only way forward is for Israel to solve the COVID crisis and reopen the economy fully, and they have to figure out how.”