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Political tensions rise amid protests over lockdown

What happened: Government coalition partners Blue and White is divided over whether to continue to cooperate with the Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • A senior source in Blue and White is quoted in the Israeli media saying, “Everyone in Blue and White shares the sense that it is hard to live in this government. That is why some have called for us to start exposing Bibi’s latest lies and to be much more combative. We intend to be more confrontational against the Likud and Netanyahu.”
  • The rise in tensions between the coalition partners comes as protests of the lockdown turn more violent. Last night, police arrested 18 people for throwing rocks in clashes between the ultra-Orthodox community and the police.
  • On Saturday night the police arrested 38 protesters in Tel Aviv as tens of thousands of Israelis protested across the country. The police said in a statement: “Many demonstrators violated public order, blocked roads, ignored police instructions and resorted to physical and verbal violence.” The protestors were later released. The police also handed out hundreds of fines to demonstrators over violations of restrictions.
  • Mayor Ron Huldai participated in the protest in Tel Aviv and appeared to have been lightly injured with a cut on his arm. There were also isolated incidences of violence against demonstrators, allegedly by supporters of the prime minister.
  • Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Saturday night: “The attacks on protesters tonight and over the past few days are simply unthinkable. Protests that are held in line with health regulations are legitimate and vital to democracy. I call upon the police to apprehend the attackers and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. The violence we’ve seen over the past few days against demonstrators, against police officers, and against people in the media, is intolerable. We can only beat this pandemic together, with solidarity, patience, and tolerance toward others.”
  • According to the Black Flag protest movement, 130,000 people took part in Saturday’s protests against Netanyahu in cities and towns across the country.

Context: Five months after the formation of a national unity government to handle the coronavirus, the political crisis has worsened.

  • On Friday, Blue and White Minister (Tourism) Asaf Zamir resigned from the government, citing lack of trust in the prime minister and his leadership.
  • Blue and White are threatening to act independently, without the Likud’s consent, for example in forming a search committee for appointing senior legal officials.
  • According to Blue and White MK Miki Haimovich, “A growing group in Blue and White is thinking of dismantling the partnership with the Likud… We must not give up on positions of power, but we must take steps to replace Netanyahu.”
  • In response, a senior Likud source accused the party of a “continued push for elections while Prime Minister Netanyahu has been working around the clock to save lives and to fight the coronavirus. We call on Blue and White to work for unity instead of being preoccupied with petty politics on behalf of their party, which is crashing in the polls.”

Looking ahead:  The coronavirus cabinet will be convened today to decide whether to extend the special emergency situation, which restricts demonstrators to a distance of one kilometre from their homes.

  • Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to demand an extension to the emergency situation. Blue and White officials said that if the morbidity numbers continue to fall, there would be no justification for restricting demonstrations and economic activity could also be gradually resumed. The decision will likely be delayed until later this week or next week until there is clearer data on morbidity trends.
  • There is concern that the political crisis will result in no budget being passed by the December deadline, which could precipitate early election in March 2021.

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