Tens of thousands of Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu across the country on Saturday night, despite the lockdown that began on Friday after Netanyahu did not succeed in passing proposals intended to limit the demonstrations.
The Israel Police fined dozens of protesters at a demonstration outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on Saturday night for not adhering to social distancing rules or not wearing masks. Five protesters were arrested after attacking police officers and disturbing the public order.
The organizers of the protests urged their activists to follow the Health Ministry’s guidelines at demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and organized more than 300 protest convoys permitted by the directives, including near Netanyahu’s home in Caesarea.
Police said the directives were kept more than in the past but violators were fined.
The police expanded the designated protest area near Netanyahu’s residence, in order to allow the demonstrators to keep the necessary distance after exceeding the 2,000 protesters limit. There were several incidents of violence as police attempted to enforce the laws.
“Any public disorder and any violation of public health regulations will not be allowed, and all attempts to harm the orderly manner of the protest will be dealt with decisively,” a police spokesman said.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Interior Minister Arye Deri criticized the protesters for putting the public at risk and accused them of spreading the coronavirus.
The protests were permitted, after the Knesset and the cabinet both failed to pass proposals limiting the demonstrations to people who live within a kilometer. Netanyahu tried unsuccessfully to persuade Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz, Gabi Ashkenazi and Avi Nissenkorn over the weekend to bypass the Knesset with emergency regulations to severely limit the protests “in order to save lives.”
But the Blue and White leaders adamantly refused.
“The lockdown was meant to stop the coronavirus outbreak and not suppress protests and prayers,” Gantz said. Nissenkorn accused Netanyahu of being “obsessed with the protests.”
Further attempts will be made to pass a bill limiting the protests when the Knesset reconvenes in a special session on Tuesday after Yom Kippur.
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held a marathon session from Thursday evening until just before the lockdown began on Friday afternoon. The committee failed to approve the restriction on demonstrations that would have amended the Corona Law, after opposition MKs filed some 4,000 amendments to the bill.
The tightening of the lockdown has already been approved and therefore did not require approval of the plenum. However, further restriction of demonstrations and prayers required legislation in order to enforce it.
When it became apparent that the legislation process would not be able to be completed, Edelstein attempted instead to bring emergency regulations that would have allowed the government to place restrictions on gatherings until a law is passed in the Knesset. He said this was based on a medical opinion that there is a danger in the gathering, and following the understanding that the work of legislation will not end today.
“Before my eyes is first and foremost public health,” Edelstein said. “I will not allow the risk of human life in gatherings at all or in demonstrations or in synagogues.”
“The opposition is acting irresponsibly at a time of national emergency,” the Likud charged, saying it was not allowing the amendment to the law to move forward because of its “obsession to allow the demonstration festival.”
The party called on Blue and White and the attorney-general to “act responsibly and immediately approve the emergency regulations.”
“In this national emergency there is no room for petty politics,” the Likud said in a statement. “Although the demonstrations only help the Likud politically, they endanger public health and should therefore be stopped... Immediately approve the emergency regulations to save the lives of many Israelis.”
Coalition Chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) accused the opposition of causing a war and Blue and White of wanting to destroy the state.
“Because of the opposition we cannot pass the law that will prevent the demonstrations on Saturday,” he told KAN News. “People will see the thousands gathering in Balfour, and on Yom Kippur there will be mass prayers. It will be the biggest spread of the virus since the outbreak. The Second Yom Kippur War awaits us.”
He said that “Anyone who claims that this is nonsense will be tried by the heavenly court.”
But sources in Blue and White told Israeli media that “the Likud faction, led by Miki Zohar and under the direction of the prime minister, is undermining the struggle against coronavirus and for public health, and is trying to divert the discussion to an obsessive discourse on demonstrations.”
Gantz told his faction: “We will keep pushing the legislation within the rules of democratic process and will prevent using emergency regulations that are focused solely on protests, prayers, or any other specific target.”
Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar expressed outrage at Zohar’s comments, saying “Where did you get that from? Don’t play with the deaths of people. You’re sick.”
Zohar responded that Avidar “is stupid.”
MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) accused the committee of wasting time that could be better spent on developing an exit strategy, financial assistance plan or other needed support.
“But no,” she said, “Netanyahu and his envoys are working solely to eliminate democracy and to deny the right to demonstrate.”