Wearing face masks, waving black flags, and keeping two metres apart, thousands of Israelis demonstrated against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under strict coronavirus restrictions.
“Let democracy win,” said one placard on Sunday, while some protesters wrote “Minister of Crime” on their masks, an apparent reference to Netanyahu’s upcoming trial for corruption. Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, is under criminal indictment in three corruption cases.
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He is also negotiating a power-sharing deal with his rival Benny Gantz to form a coalition government that would end a year of political deadlock that saw three inconclusive elections.
Demonstrations are allowed under Israel’s coronavirus restrictions, as long as participants maintain the required distance from each other and wear face masks.
Under the banner of “Save the Democracy”, protesters called on Gantz’s Blue and White party not to join a coalition led by a prime minister charged with corruption.
A Reuters cameraman estimated that a few thousand demonstrators attended the rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Israeli media put the figure at about 2,000 people.
Israel has reported more than 13,000 COVID-19 cases and at least 173 deaths. Restrictions have confined most Israelis to their homes, forcing businesses to close and sending unemployment past 25 percent.
Gantz had previously said he would not serve in a government led by Netanyahu. However, the enormity of the coronavirus crisis prompted him to break his campaign promise and consider a deal, a move that angered many of his anti-Netanyahu supporters.
It appeared to weaken Gantz while strengthening Netanyahu, whose caretaker government is overseeing the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
A total of 59 lawmakers have endorsed Netanyahu, leaving him just shy of a majority in the 120-seat parliament. While continuing to speak to Gantz, he may also try to lure two opposition legislators in hopes of putting together a narrow government.
An April 13 poll by Israel’s Channel 12 News predicted that if an election were held now, Netanyahu’s Likud party would see a four-seat boost to 40 in the 120-member Knesset, while Gantz’s Blue and White alliance would win only 19.