Protesters chant slogans and hold signs during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo / AP
Thousands of Israelis demonstrated outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night, resuming the weekly protest against the Israeli leader after emergency restrictions imposed as part of a coronavirus lockdown were lifted.
The protests were curtailed last month after Israel imposed new lockdown measures in response to a new virus outbreak. The emergency regulations blocked Israelis from travelling to Jerusalem to protest and allowed people only to attend smaller demonstrations within one kilometre of their home.
The protesters gathered in central Jerusalem and marched to Netanyahu’s official residence, holding banners calling on him to go and shouting “Revolution!”. Many blew horns and pounded on drums, while others hoisted Israeli flags. Scores of smaller demonstrations were held across the country, and organisers claimed some 260,000 people participated nationwide.
The protesters say Netanyahu must resign, calling him unfit to lead the country while he is on trial for corruption charges. They also say he has mishandled the virus crisis, which has sent unemployment soaring.
Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes for his role in a series of scandals. He has denied the charges and said he is the victim of a conspiracy by overzealous police and prosecutors and a liberal media.
Israeli media reported several incidents of violence by far-right counter-demonstrators. In the northern city of Haifa, police said they arrested three people suspected of using pepper spray on demonstrators.
Earlier this year, Israel managed to contain the virus outbreak by sealing its borders and imposing a strict lockdown. But a quick reopening of the economy led to a rise in cases, forcing a second lockdown.
Health officials say the new restrictions have brought the infection rate down, and Israel is set to begin easing the lockdown on Sunday by reopening daycare centres and some businesses. A full reopening is expected to take several months.
Unemployment, including people on open-ended absences of leave, has soared to nearly 25 per cent, according to government figures. Many of the protesters include business owners, entrepreneurs and workers who lost their jobs.