Thousands of demonstrators have once again filled the streets near the official residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a renewed show of strength as weeks of protests calling for his resignation showed no signs of slowing.
The protesters were angry at the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and said Netanyahu should not remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.
In central Jerusalem on Saturday evening, protesters held Israeli flags, blew horns and chanted slogans against Netanyahu.
Some held posters that said “Crime Minister” or called him “out of touch”, while dressed up as visitors from outer space, in a move aimed at mocking comments by Netanyahu’s son, Yair, who caused a public uproar this week when he described the demonstrators as “aliens”.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the rally in Jerusalem, described it as “another very noisy, substantial protest”.
“Once again, it seems very much dominated by the Israeli political left. We see the black flags of the pro-democracy, anti-Netanyahu movement, and others who have long been protesting against his premiership saying he should resign because of the fact that he is on trial ”
Though Netanyahu has tried to downplay the protests, the gatherings only appear to be getting stronger -they are the largest since protests erupted in 2011 against the country’s high cost of living.
After moving quickly to contain the coronavirus earlier this year, critics believe Israel reopened its economy too quickly.
The country is now facing a surge in infections – confirmed cases have surpassed 82,000, including 592 deaths – while unemployment has jumped to more than 20 percent.
Self-employed workers, whose businesses have been hurt amid the economic fallout of the pandemic, also joined Saturday’s protest.
Netanyahu has dismissed the demonstrators as “leftists” and “anarchists” and accused local media of strengthening the protests by giving them heavy coverage.
The Israeli prime minister was sworn in for a fifth term in May after clinching a coalition deal four months ago with centrist Benny Gantz, his main rival in three inconclusive elections since April 2019.
Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, has often complained of press bias against him, and some of the charges he faces in a corruption trial related to alleged attempts to seek favourable coverage from media barons in return for state favours.
The prime minister has denied wrongdoing in the three corruption cases against him.