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Protest ramped up in Jerusalem, as government considers coronavirus lockdown

What happened: A series of protests took place yesterday across Israel, against the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. In Jerusalem the protest targeted the Prime Minister directly.

  • In Jerusalem, around 2,000 people demonstrated outside the Prime Minister’s residence, protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he is incapable of leading the country through an economic crisis while under indictment. Clashes broke out between demonstrators and police after dozens stormed the police barricades. Some demonstrators were seen pelting the police with eggs, whilst an Israeli TV crew was attacked. Later, a few hundred demonstrators marched to central Jerusalem, where they clashed with the police and blocked the light rail. Several police officers were injured, and the police detained at least 50 of the demonstrators.
  • On the beachfront at Clore Park in Tel Aviv, a few hundred people gathered to mark nine years since the start social justice protests in the summer of 2011. The same organisers in 2011 were behind the meeting, including former MK Stav Shaffir and Dafni Leaf. Leaf told the crowd: “We are in the beginning of a huge crisis, and it is clear that there is no leadership to expect solutions from. The trust has been destroyed, despair is on the rise, but the people are waking up … it is also time to remember and inspire hope that only together will we create the strength to create solutions and change.”
  • Hundreds of people demonstrated last night at the entrance to the ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit (under lockdown due to coronavirus), demanding compensation for the days that they were forbidden to leave for work. Meanwhile, government officials and Beitar Illit Mayor Meir Rubinstein reached an understanding that the lockdown will be lifted this morning.
  • According to Health Ministry, 1,718 people tested positive yesterday for the coronavirus. The number of actively sick people in Israel stands at more than 22,300, among whom 183 are hospitalised in serious condition and 56 are on ventilators.

Context: Responding to the protest in Jerusalem, President Reuven Rivlin said on Twitter: “We cannot in good conscience tolerate such images, this is not our way.”

  • Opposition leader Yair Lapid wrote: “The Balfour Street [PM’s Residence] protest is justified and correct but nothing can justify violence against police and journalists. Protest, yes. Violence, no. We have no other country, we have no other police.”
  • Former Maj. Gen. (ret) Amos Yadlin, now director of Institute for National Security Studies, has warned: “The Israeli government’s failure in handling the coronavirus crisis is proving with every passing day to be growing into the dimensions of a national catastrophe.” He advocates appointing a “coronavirus CEO, who might draft and execute integrative policies and plans on the national level, create in the face of the clear challenges coordinated cooperation between the ministries that were splintered in a way that has created paralysis and which have bodily prevented vital processes from being carried out.”
  • Amid the crisis, high tension remains within the government. Prime Minister Netanyahu was reportedly “furious” with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz for apparently blocking a series of new coronavirus- related restrictions.
  • Former Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov has warned that Israel is likely to suffer 1,000 deaths if steps are not taken immediately. He said, “We’ve lost control and decisions about a lockdown need to be made immediately.”

Looking ahead: With the coronavirus continuing to spread, there is a high possibility Israel will return to a full closure.

  • Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has already warned: “If we get to around 2,000 new infections in a day, and the alarming increase in the number of people who are seriously ill and on ventilators continues, with the system in such a state that we receive messages from hospitals that are considering stopping elective medical procedures—then we’ll definitely put forward tough proposals…In my opinion, in the situation that has emerged, after the vigorous activity for the benefit of the public, I don’t see what other tools we have at our disposal other than a lockdown.”
  • The National Security Council is advising a range of measures, including closing restaurants (except for takeaway), synagogues, religious seminaries, gyms, public swimming pools, beaches and limiting public gatherings to ten people.
  • Another possibility being considered is enforcing a closure in the evenings and / or weekends, so as to limit the damage to the economy.