Large crowds take to the streets of Jerusalem, three days before Israel holds its fourth general election in less than two years.
Thousands of Israelis took to the streets to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just days before the country’s fourth general election in less than two years.
Widespread protests have been taking place since July 2020, with people demanding Netanyahu’s departure over alleged corruption scandals and the government’s handling of the pandemic, including extended lockdowns that have hit the economy.
The Israeli daily Haaretz reported that around 20,000 people gathered near the Prime Minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, in what was one of the largest gatherings in recent months.
Waving flags, protesters led by a young man carrying a megaphone chanted “Bibi is coming home”, using the prime minister’s nickname. They also held up placards conveying a wide range of messages, ranging from the need for a leadership “revolution” to mistrust of the police.
“We have come to protest against a dictator,” Anat Gourelle, a 60-year-old lawyer from Tel Aviv, said of Netanyahu. “What is happening in Israel is scandalous. It is unthinkable that anyone would use their power to steal their own people, ”she told AFP news agency.
“We will continue to protest until he leaves Balfour,” she said, using the name of Jerusalem Street where the prime minister’s official residence is located.
Netanyahu, in power for 12 consecutive years, hopes to stay in power after Tuesday’s vote.
The 71-year-old was the first Israeli prime minister to be charged with corruption when he was formally indicted last year in three cases for saying he accepted inappropriate gifts and sought to exchange regulatory favors with tycoons media in exchange for positive coverage.
Netanyahu denies wrongdoing and claims to be the victim of a witch hunt, but he would be forced to resign if found guilty with all appeals exhausted.
When Netanyahu last appeared in court nine months ago, he had just achieved a political victory, forming a coalition government with his electoral rival Benny Gantz after three inconclusive votes.
But this tense coalition proved to be short-lived and collapsed in December, with Gantz calling Netanyahu “seriously dishonest.”
It is not known whether the shadow cast by the trial will hurt the prime minister’s chances of re-election. If he wins, he could try to gain parliamentary immunity or pass laws to exempt a sitting prime minister from trial.
Polls show Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud leading the way, predicting it will win around 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset, Israel’s parliament.
But for the first time in his political career, Netanyahu also faces the challenge of a prominent Likud defector, Gideon Saar, who broke with the prime minister to form his own New Hope party.
Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party, the largest in the anti-Netanyahu bloc, is expected to win around 20 seats.
Netanyahu has placed his hopes of re-election on the success of his campaign to vaccinate the adult population of Israel.
Israel has launched the world’s fastest vaccination campaign, delivering at least one dose to more than half of its 9.3 million people and the required two doses to about a third in less than two months.
The disparities between Israel’s successful vaccination campaign with its own population and the lack of vaccines for Palestinians in the occupied territories have drawn criticism from United Nations officials and rights groups.