Thousands of demonstrators joined after-sunset rallies across Israel on Saturday to protest against the rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite a strict virus lockdown.
Netanyahu had earlier attempted to extend the country’s lockdown rules to prevent the now-weekly protests on health grounds, but was unable to push new curbs through Israel’s parliament in time.
This led to convoys of protesters being free to pass police roadblocks aimed at enforcing a lockdown ban on non-essential travel on the main highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Under current rules, Israelis are not allowed to venture beyond 1 kilometre radius of their homes unless it is to go to a supermarket, pharmacy, seek medical treatment – or to protest.
The majority of protesters gathering in Jerusalem and elsewhere on Saturday evening wore face masks and observed social distancing, after Netanyahu called the protests virus “breeding grounds.”
The prime minister’s critics say he is exploiting a spike in new coronavirus infections to justify an attack on Israel’s democratic principles, including the right to demonstrate.
Critics say his actions come against the background of his upcoming trial on corruption charges and demand he step down until he proves his innocence in the trial that started against him in May.
Netanyahu denies all charges against him.
Saturday protests have become a weekly occurrence since June as Netanyahu’s political opponents are joined by those hit financially by the economic fallout from the pandemic.
Israel confirmed a record 8,178 new coronavirus infections on Thursday and a total of 1,412 related deaths since March.