Israelis flocked to the streets to decry the government’s ban on mass demonstrations, which they see as a distraction from PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial. The noisy gathering ended up in scuffles with police.
The crowd, numbering hundreds, amassed in Tel Aviv when night fell on Tuesday, carrying homemade placards that demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Others were seen waving flags and chanting slogans in unison.
At some point, the demonstration became chaotic although police began to get things under control. Officers – some armed, some wearing riot gear – didn’t deploy any crowd control measures but used their hands to push protesters away.
Demonstrators flocked to the streets in defiance of new measures passed last week, which prohibit Israelis from traveling more than a kilometer from where they live to protest – and limit rallies to socially-distanced groups of up to 20 people.
Critics see the ban as an infringement of freedom of speech and a smokescreen to deflect public attention from Netanyahu. The long-serving prime minister, who is on trial for alleged bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, denies any wrongdoing.
Protesters believe Netanyahu is using the crisis in order to remain in power. “We are afraid that he is trying to create a civil war between us. He certainly does increase the hatred between Israelis,” a local man explained to Ruptly video agency.
Another one had accused the PM – or Bibi, as he came to be known among Israelis – of “stealing our democracy.” “He is a thief and he is a criminal,” the protester insisted.
The protest action comes amid a strict coronavirus lockdown that saw Israel shut down much of its economy and mandated people to stay indoors whenever possible in a bid to contain a surge in Covid-19 infections. The Jewish state has recorded over 277,000 cases and close to 1,800 fatalities.