Anti – government protests remained rampant on the streets of Israel for the 15th week in a row, as thousands of protestors rallied in Jerusalem, the capital city, to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Similarly, smaller protests were reported in Tel Aviv and Caesarea, and organizers of the protest released the figure that approximately 16,000 demonstrators joined nationwide. The driving cause of the protest is Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the allegations of corruption, which he denies.
Currently, according to the World Health Organization, Israel has 255,160 confirmed cases and is struggling with one of the highest rates of coronavirus infections per capita. However, the Israeli public was not deterred by the recent tightening of COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the government as the protests continued despite parliaments bill to limit the size and scope of public demonstrations. The limits range from placing bans on the areas to hold demonstrations to enforcing more stringent social distancing rules. Israel was the first country to impose a second nationwide lockdown in the world, after easing coronavirus restrictions in May. The government was criticized on a local and international level for the lack of safety precautions. This led to increased tensions and mistrust between the government and the public, manifesting in strong opposition towards Netanyahu.
The prime minister was criticized for being more focused on his own personal political battles than safeguarding the well-being of the Israeli people. As expressed by Efrat Safran, an organizer of anti-Netanyahu protests, ‘he’s attacking all the institutions of democracy, the Supreme Court, the general counsel to the Government, the police … he’s just handling his own affairs’. Moreover, according to Israeli law, a prime minister is not forced to step down after being indicted. Therefore, the trust in the democratic process and government is deteriorating in Israel. The second lockdown detailed the vulnerabilities in the Israeli government as senior government ministers openly opposed the restrictions. Furthermore, demonstrations against Netanyahu occurred despite safety restrictions.
An atmosphere of rebellion is palpable in Israel. The public is experiencing economic fragility coupled with a hostile political environment amidst a pandemic. Protest is one of the only ways in which people can express dissent to government action and is necessary under the model of democracy; however, in Israel it comes at a price, as the increasing numbers of coronavirus cases threaten the health and vitality of the community. After weeks of protest, the pressure from the public for the resignation of the prime minster remains relentless. Israel is facing a turbulent period in which protestors and other international experts argue that Netanyahu, who is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust is undermining the safety of citizens and pillars of democracy.
It is clear that protest is a vehicle for ensuring liberty and civil rights. However, the very nature of COVID-19 acts a deterrent. Yet, as seen in the success of the cultural shift in Black Lives Matter movement which arose in the pandemic, there is capacity for there to be palpable change. The people of Israel are entitled to a government that champions the interests of the people, following a democratic model in which the populace are able to exercise key democratic rights, curb corruption and express contempt of their current government authority.