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Explained: Why Israel has been witnessing weeks of large-scale protests against PM Netanyahu

The Netanyahu family has been publicly criticising these protestors, with the prime minister's son Yair Netanyahu taking the lead, despite not holding any official position in the government.

Written by Neha Banka , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: July 28, 2020 7:11:35 am
Benjamin Netanyahu, protests against Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel protests, Jerusalem protests, Israel coronavirus, Israel covid impact, Yair Netanyahu, express explained, indian express Israeli police officers scuffle with demonstrators during a protest against Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, early Sunday, July 26. (Photo: AP)

Protests against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been on for weeks, with thousands of protestors taking to the streets and gathering outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem.

Since July, Israelis have been protesting against the government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on the country’s economy. These protests come at a time when Netanyahu has been facing charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals, with protestors ramping up calls for the prime minister’s ouster. The prime minister’s corruption trial started this month and hearings in the case will begin in January 2021.

In the weeks since protests started, crowds had also gathered outside Netanyahu’s beach house in Caesarea, in north-central Israel. Last week, Netanyahu publicly addressed the protests warning protestors to not descend into “anarchy, violence” and attacks against the police. He also urged the protestors to maintain health ministry guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In Jerusalem last week, Israeli police used water cannons to disperse protestors.

Why has Israel been hit with protests recently?

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According to local news reports, protests in Israel started essentially because of the economic impact of COVID-19 that has hit small business owners and the self-employed the hardest. The self-employed have complained that government support schemes that had been promised to alleviate economic hardship have not reached them.

In the first week of July, Netanyahu had met protesting groups and had promised to hasten payments through these schemes. Some protestors have also said that aid measures haven’t been enough despite the government’s revisions.

Since Israel implemented strict lockdown measures in March following rising infection numbers, livelihoods of thousands of people have been severely hit. These measures, however, did initially help control a wider outbreak of infections, say local news reports.

Although the government began lifting lockdown restrictions in May, the economic impact has persisted for many in the country. According to a BBC report, unemployment has risen to 21% since lockdown measures were first implemented in Israel.

What was the Netanyahu family’s response to protests?

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Netanyahu family has been publicly criticising these protestors, with the prime minister’s son Yair Netanyahu taking the front seat in his battle against his father’s critics, both political and ordinary Israelis, despite not holding any official position in the government. Last week, Yair Netanyahu took to Twitter to attack Ehud Barak, former Israeli prime minister and a long-time critic of the present leader.

For weeks, Yair Netanyahu has been sharing social media posts that are anti-protests and has also used Twitter to attack his father’s critics, often resorting to vulgarity. Haaretz reported in May that Yair had “accused Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit of permitting the spilling of his father’s blood (by not ordering an investigation of some of the violent statements made against him) and claimed journalists were inciting violence against his family”.

Last week, Yair stirred fresh criticism and controversy for responding to a tweet featuring a photo of protests in Tel Aviv: “I hope the elderly people who die following this protest will be from your (leftist) bloc.”

According to a Haartetz report, among the other complaints that the Netanyahu family have collectively levelled against protestors, the prime minister also accused “demonstrators last week of spreading disease and relieving themselves in the streets and courtyards near his residence – claims his son had made on Twitter earlier using pictures from other places and times with no connection to the demonstrations.”

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Benjamin Netanyahu, protests against Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel protests, Jerusalem protests, Israel coronavirus, Israel covid impact, Yair Netanyahu, express explained, indian express People wearing face masks hold signs at a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday, July 25. (Photo: AP)

Benjamin Netanyahu recently accused protestors of defacing and disrespecting state symbols, after a protestor was photographed shirtless in a public square, standing on top of a large installation of a menorah. Yair for his part, shared a right-wing news outlet reporting on this defacement of the menorah by a protestor in Israel.

Haarertz reported that Israel’s Shin Bet, the country’s internal security service had ramped up its protection of the prime minister and his family following growing protests, particularly outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence. The Haaretz report implied that due to the size and frequency of the demonstrations, occurring day and night, several of the agency’s operations have been altered to reflect the developing situation.

Local news reports suggested that Israeli police had ramped up its presence at these anti-Netanyahu protests because of the growing numbers of demonstrators. There have also been reports of police violence against protestors, with images of police forcing protestors to the ground and placing a knee on their neck, reminiscent of police brutality that was inflicted on George Flyod that later resulted in his death.

In the midst of this, Israeli news reports said that the Netanyahu family had been complaining that police need to show more aggression when dealing with these protestors due to the rising vigour and widespread nature of these demonstrations.

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Israel’s opposition parties have also expressed criticism at the aggression meted out against protestors by police forces. On June 27, Yair Lapid, opposition leader in Israel’s Knesset, said that Amir Ohana, Israel’s Minister of Public Security, should be fired for attempting to suppress protests against Netanyahu.

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