Israeli police and Yerushalayim municipal officials scuffled with protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday as officers dismantled tents set up by the demonstrators outside the premier’s residence.
The demonstrators have staged a sit-in outside PM Netanyahu’s official residence in Yerushalayim for the past month, calling on him to resign while facing corruption charges. They said police used excessive force to dismantle the sit-in while opposition politicians decried the move as a restriction of free expression.
Video footage from the scene appeared to show city officials and police officers tearing down banners and removing chairs and tents while tussling with demonstrators.
Yerushalayim city hall said in a statement that the municipality had removed the protesters’ equipment for a second consecutive day because it “was placed without a permit and harms public order.”
Amir Haskel, a former Israeli air force general and one of the leaders of the protest, told Army Radio that the demonstrators were undeterred.
“There’s no chance that we’re moving from here,” he said. “You can’t ignore the fact that we’ve been here 35 days.”
Last month, Haskel was arrested by police for allegedly holding a protest without a permit, but was later released without charges. He denounced his detention as an attempt to stifle the protest, which has grown in numbers since his arrest. On Friday, several thousand people gathered outside Netanyahu’s residence, calling for his resignation.
Separately, thousands demonstrated on Motzoei Shabbos in downtown Tel Aviv, protesting what is widely seen as Netanyahu’s failure to address economic woes brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
After Monday’s dismantling of the sit-in, opposition leader Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter that “Netanyahu has lost public trust, and with it the courage to stand before citizens who tell him the truth daily — that he’s failed.”
The incident came a day after public opinion polls showed dismal approval of Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic. A Channel 13 survey found that 75% of respondents were unsatisfied by the government’s performance, while a similar poll by public broadcaster Kan showed that 85% were dissatisfied.
Israel’s Health Ministry has confirmed over 38,000 cases of COVID-19 and 362 deaths, with the number of new infections surging in recent weeks. The pandemic has severely impacted Israel’s economy, with over 20% of the country’s workforce unemployed.
Assaf Amdursky called on Israelis to hold a torchlight march on Netanyahu’s home Tuesday night to protest his government’s shuttering of cultural activities to stem the pandemic, The Times of Israel reported.
“A public servant who raises his own salary and arranges huge tax benefits for himself while imposing a closure on the economy that drops a million and a half citizens below the poverty line is a crook!” Amdursky charged.
Also on Monday, hundreds of social workers have gathered outside the Finance Ministry to protest their working conditions, The Times of Israel reported.
They have called an open-ended strike to protest excessive workloads, low salaries and the exposure to violence. While the strike goes on, various social services are inoperative, including protection orders for children and youths in danger, no one to handle inquiries from the elderly, domestic violence complaints, and so on.
Yesh Atid-Telem MK Moshe Yaalon launched a speech to the social workers, until he was interrupted and informed that he was addressing the wrong demonstration. The people in front of him were a gathering of deaf activists.
Undaunted, Yaalon smiled and switched to a speech on recognizing the rights of the disabled.
Likud MK Osnat Mark heaped scorn on the anti-Netanyahu protesters, dismissing them as “radical leftists,” seeking to exploit the current crisis.
“I did not see the self-employed there. Only leftists and radical leftists who came and said one thing: ‘Down with Bibi,’” she said on Monday at the Knesset’s Economic Affairs Committee.
“We are not in an election campaign right now, we are in the campaign to save the self-employed, and this must be done in conjunction with the government,” she said.