JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of people protested outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, pressing forward with a more than month-long campaign calling on the longtime leader to step down.
Public discontent with the government's handling of the coronavirus outbreak and resulting economic crisis has drawn thousands, including many young Israelis, to twice-weekly protests demanding Netanyahu resign from office while on trial for corruption.
Demonstrators chanted the slogan that has become the rallying cry of the protests against Netanyahu while he stands trial on corruption charges: “Capital! Regime! Underworld!”
Netanyahu is on trial for a series of cases in which he allegedly received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and traded regulatory favors with media moguls for more favorable coverage of himself and his family. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of a witch hunt to oust him from office, and has refused to leave office.
The protests against Netanyahu are the largest the country has seen since 2011′s rallies demanding for economic reform. While they have largely been peaceful, police have arrested dozens for public disturbance and have drawn charges of using excessive force against protesters.
In Tel Aviv, several hundred people waved Israeli flags and black flags — the symbol of the protest movement — at a demonstration outside Public Security Minister Amir Ohana's apartment building.
Demonstrators spilled onto a major highway, blocking traffic, as they protested leaked comments Ohana made to police chiefs urging them to clamp down on anti-Netanyahu rallies.
In a recording published by Israel's public broadcaster Kan, stalwart Netanyahu ally Ohana is heard telling Jerusalem's police chief to challenge a Supreme Court ruling allowing the protests to continue, and called the demonstrations “vandalism that you shouldn't put up with.”
Netanyahu' popularity has plummeted in recent weeks as his corruption trial has gotten underway, and as his bloated coalition government has fumbled economic relief for hundreds of thousands of Israelis left jobless by the pandemic.
Critics of the government’s response to the economic crisis say it has provided too little assistance to Israelis and has offered no safety net to small business owners and self-employed workers.
Israel was praised early on for imposing tight movement restrictions and a countrywide lockdown at the start of the outbreak. But since reopening the economy in May, new cases have spiked and unemployment remains over 20%, up from 3.9% before March.