Thousands of business owners, self-employed workers and their employees and supporters have gathered in more than 200 cities across Israel in near daily demonstrations over the past week to protest unsustainable economic conditions caused by government-imposed closures to slow the coronavirus.
Much of the protestors’ anger is directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is being blamed for his leadership during the pandemic which has lately resulted in high unemployment, a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and reimposed coronavirus restrictions. Unemployment, which stood at 4 percent in early March, is about 21 percent now. A poll last week found that only 29.5 percent of the public trust Netanyahu.
The main rallies have taken place in Jerusalem, outside the Prime Minister’s residence, and in Tel Aviv. Police have used water cannons to disperse protesters, carrying signs of “Crime Minister” and other slogans, while dozens have been arrested. Police have been accused to being aggressive with non-violent protesters.
In the midst of the turmoil, Netanyahu’s lawyers were in court this week for a hearing in prime minister’s bribery, fraud and breach of trust trial. The judge granted the defense a six-month postponement to January 2021 so they can question witnesses without masks — presuming the mask mandate is lifted by then.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s allies are criticizing the protestors. Miki Zohar, the prime minister’s coalition chairman, said in a Twitter post, that protestors are launching “a coordinated propaganda campaign orchestrated by leftists, with almost the complete backing of the media, to topple the right wing.”
This is absolutely not true. The protesters come from all walks of life and political backgrounds. It is a political tactic to label those not pleased with you as extremists.
Israeli news shows are rife with business owner after business owner bemoaning the closures and the lack of government support. One restaurant owner has started a hunger strike, while others are defying closure orders and restrictions. But in an anguished Instagram post, Orel Kimche announced the closure of his Tel Aviv restaurant, Popina, and the firing of all his staff.
“Now it is really personal and really political,” he wrote, addressing Netanyahu. “We will sit here, eat, drink, rejoice, and wish for the day you will no longer be in power, when you will be far from the eye and far from the heart. You have lost every semblance of humanity… You’ve crushed people with your own hands—never forget it!!! You’ve made people lose property, lose their lives.”