The lead story in all the country’s major media outlets was the protests that swept across Israel on Saturday night — drawing more than 10,000 citizens to several locations. It was also was the subject of a major argument at Sunday’s Knesset cabinet meeting.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz clashed over how to respond to ongoing protests. And it got personal.
In one corner, Netanyahu accused protesters of “trampling on democracy” and proceeded to go on a six-minute rant against the demonstrations.
- “Benny, I did not intend to touch on the demonstrations but since you touched on them I will say a few things,” he said, directing his comments to Gantz. “Firstly, I condemn violence in any form, and we have zero tolerance for violence and any threat of violence, from any side, towards any person.”
- Netanyahu called the mass demonstrations nothing less than a “coronavirus incubator. There are rules that are not enforced, no one restricts it and no one has even tried to restrict it.” (So far no outbreaks have been traced to protests and police have said they are strictly enforcing mask-wearing.) ”
- He also said the demonstrations were fueled by an unprecedented media mobilization: “There has never been such a distorted mobilization – I wanted to say Soviet but it has already reached North Korean terms – of the media in favor of the protests.”
- Likud party members accused the major Israeli networks channels of “delivering propaganda for the anarchist left wing demonstrations.” The party tweeted: “They are desperately trying to brainwash the public, in order to bring down a strong prime minister from the right.”
- Defense Minister Gantz, who hopes to serve as alternate prime minister in 18 months, said the right to demonstrate is the “lifeblood of democracy. As a government, we have a responsibility to allow the demonstrations to take place and to protect the demonstrators, who were unfortunately attacked yesterday.”
- Izhar Shay of Gantz’s Blue and White party called on Netanyahu to take responsibility and calm the tensions: “I do not know where this is going, but it is clear that the public is showing its heart. We’ve insisted on the ability of the Israeli public to demonstrate [despite the coronavirus pandemic], that the basic democratic right should be in every law and regulation. Some are against us, and we respect that.”
- Meanwhile, on Sunday a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court slapped Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, with a restraining order for his comments against protest leaders. He is prohibited from publishing commentary about the leaders of the current protest movement against his father.
For several week now, anti-Netanyahu protesters have holding regular rallies outside the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, calling on the premier to resign over corruption charges he is facing. They have been joined lately by business owners and others hit hard by the government’s economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic.
The protests are gathering steam and show no sign of abating. While about 10,000 people packed Jerusalem’s Paris Square on Saturday night, another protest was held outside Netanyahu’s private home in Caesarea and hundreds gathered at Charles Clore park in Tel Aviv. Thousands more waved flags and chanted against the government on some 250 bridges and highway overpasses across the country.