Israel’s Netanyahu rails against protesters asking him to resign

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has railed at swelling protests against his rule, saying they are being egged on by a biased media.

Netanyahu has faced a wave of protests in recent weeks, with demonstrators calling for the long-serving leader to resign, panning his handling of the coronavirus crisis, and saying he should not remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.

In a nearly six-minute rant at a meeting of his cabinet, Netanyahu slammed the media for “inflaming” the protests – devoting disproportionate airtime to them – and for distorting incidents of violence against the protesters.

“In the name of democracy, I see an attempt to trample on democracy,” said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu’s statements came after thousands of demonstrators gathered outside his official residence in central Jerusalem, while smaller anti-government gatherings were also held in Tel Aviv, near his beach house in central Israel and at dozens of busy intersections nationwide.

The demonstrations on Saturday were among the largest turnouts in weeks of protests. Though Netanyahu has tried to play down the protests, the twice-a-week gatherings show no signs of slowing.

Israeli media estimated that at least 10,000 people demonstrated near the official residence in central Jerusalem. Late Saturday, thousands marched through the streets in a noisy but orderly rally.

Demonstrators waved Israeli flags and blew horns as they marched. Many held posters that said “Crime Minister” and “Bibi Go Home” or accused Netanyahu of being out of touch with the public.

Hundreds of people remained in the area well after midnight, ignoring calls by police to leave.

Anti-riot forces moved into the area and began clearing out people. As of early Sunday morning, most of the remaining protesters appeared to be leaving peacefully, but police were seen dragging some activists away.

Clashes with police

The rallies against Netanyahu are the largest Israel has seen since 2011 protests against the country’s high cost of living.

Netanyahu has dismissed the demonstrators as “leftists” and “anarchists.”

Late on Saturday, his Likud party issued a statement that accused Israel’s two private TV stations of giving “free and endless publicity” to the protesters and exaggerating the importance of the gatherings.

While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, there have been signs of violence in recent days.

Some protesters have clashed with police, accusing them of using excessive force, while small gangs of Netanyahu supporters affiliated with a far-right group have assaulted demonstrators. Netanyahu has claimed demonstrators are inciting violence against him.

Israeli police have arrested some 20 far-right activists in recent days, and police said they were on high alert for violence at the demonstrations.

Several arrests of Netanyahu supporters were reported Saturday, including a man who got out of his car in the northern city of Haifa and threw a stone towards a crowd of protesters. Police said a 63-year-old woman was slightly hurt.

The demonstrations are organised by a loose-knit network of activist groups. Some object to Netanyahu remaining in office while he is on trial. He has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals. Many carry black flags, which have given their name to the grassroots movement.

Many of the demonstrators, including many young unemployed Israelis, accuse Netanyahu of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and the economic damage it has caused.

After moving quickly to contain the virus earlier in the year, many believe Israel reopened its economy too soon, leading to a surge in cases.

The country is now coping with record levels of coronavirus, while unemployment has surged to more than 20 percent.

As of Sunday, there were more than 72,000 coronavirus cases reported in Israel with more than 500 confirmed deaths.

Article source: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/08/thousands-demand-netanyahu-quit-coronavirus-handling-200802000808674.html