November 30, 2020

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Anti-government protesters, clad in masks due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, gather with Israeli flags and signs during a demonstration in Charles Clore Park in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on July 18, 2020, against the Israeli government for broken promises made during the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Thousands in Israel protest government’s coronavirus response

Israeli police fired water cannons to disperse anti-government protests attended by thousands on Saturday, as public anger mounts over the handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Demonstrators gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem and at a park in Tel Aviv, voicing frustration over the government’s response to a growing epidemic that has taken a devastating economic toll.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said officers had allowed demonstrations to take place but took action against unauthorised “disturbances,” including road blockages.

Rosenfeld said protesters in Tel Aviv sprayed pepper spray at police, leading to multiple arrests.

With Israel recording more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections a day in recent weeks, the government on Friday announced a broad range of new restrictions.

Shops, markets and other public venues have closed on weekends, while restaurants have been restricted to take away and delivery.

Netanyahu has admitted he reopened the economy too soon through late April and early May, when Israel, a country of about 9 million people, had reduced its daily caseload to a trickle.

In an apparent bid to quell public anger, Netanyahu this week announced plans to send cash to all Israelis — a measure criticised by some experts who said the economy needed targeted assistance, not a nationwide payout. 

Dip in support for Covid response 

While some protesters voiced frustration over the reimposed restrictions, others have blasted the government for failing to improve testing capacity ahead of the second transmission wave.

According to a July 12 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, only 29.5 percent of the public supported Netanyahu’s coronavirus management.

That figure was 57.5 percent at the beginning of April.

Beyond the pandemic, some protesters demanded Netanyahu’s resignation over corruption charges filed against the veteran right-wing premier.

Netanyahu denies wrongdoing, but has been indicted for accepting improper gifts and seeking to trade favours with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage.

The trial continues in Jerusalem on Sunday, although Netanyahu is not expected to appear in court.

(AFP)