Israeli Demonstrators Unfazed by Emergency Decrees
Protesters outline plan for ‘micro-rallies’ aimed at getting Netanyahu to step down over corruption trial, pandemic
Early Thursday morning, the Israeli government enacted a string of harsher restrictions on public gatherings, severely limiting all forms of prayer and demonstrations. Yet protesters who have taken to the streets by the thousands in recent months tell The Media Line they are not intimidated and do not plan on backing down.
“We’re persistent. It’s hard to break us,” Amir Haskel, one of the protest leaders, told The Media Line.
“If they close the door on us, we’ll climb through the window. They shut the window, we’ll come down the roof,” he said.
If they close the door on us, we’ll climb through the window. They shut the window, we’ll come down the roof
Haskel was one of the first to stage a sit-in outside Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem over four months ago. Since then, the weekly demonstrations have attracted tens of thousands demanding that Netanyahu resign not only for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic, but for his legal troubles, which have him standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
“I started on this journey four years ago, almost by myself at the intersection near my house. So this isn’t foreign to me,” says Haskel of the newly enforced restrictions. “But this time, we aren’t going to be one or two, but 40-50 at every square and intersection.”
He adds that the public is “waking up” and points to a potential bright spot for his movement.
“Now people will be familiar with the concept of protesting because it’s easier near their homes,” he stated. “We’ll round them up once the lockdown is over and rally them to Jerusalem.”
According to the new ordinance, gatherings of any kind, including demonstrations and religious ceremonies, will be included in the total national lockdown imposed two weeks ago. Protesters will be allowed to hold rallies at a maximum distance of half a mile from home.
One of the anti-Netanyahu movement’s most prominent groups, the Black Flag Movement, is calling the emergency decree “anti-democratic” although it is promising to obey and instead hold over a thousand “micro-rallies” at various locations across the country.
“These are dark days for the State of Israel,” a Black Flag spokesperson told The Media Line. “This coming weekend, Israel will tremble from rallies, the volume of which has yet to be seen.”
This coming weekend, Israel will tremble from rallies, the volume of which has yet to be seen
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The spokesperson said there was “no reason health-wise” for the strict restrictions, calling them “criminal reasoning by an indicted man trying to escape justice.”
This is the government’s first time declaring a special state of national emergency using the new mandate awarded to it by parliament in a controversial overnight vote earlier in the week.
According to the amendment, the emergency decree will automatically expire after one week unless extended for another week by the cabinet. A parliamentary committee can inspect and strike down the decision to extend the ordinance. In total, the state of emergency will last for a maximum of 50 days.
The various protest movements have already petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to strike down the amendment, but have also committed to adhering to it until a ruling is given.
“Police are prepared to deal with the possibility of different types of protests scheduled to take place, both organized as well as sporadic,” Israel Police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told The Media Line. “We want to secure the protests and ensure people’s safety, and also be able to respond to any incidents.”
Police are prepared to deal with the possibility of different types of protests scheduled to take place, both organized as well as sporadic
On Thursday, Israel recorded a new peak in coronavirus infections, with nearly 9,000 new cases and a positivity rate closing in on 14%, among the highest in the world. Close to 1,580 people have died since the outbreak of the pandemic, 200 in the past week alone.
Despite Netanyahu’s efforts to shift the public’s focus to the anti-government demonstrations, it has remained on the epicenters of rising infections, which are densely populated ultra-Orthodox communities.
On Thursday, Israel’s so-called coronavirus czar, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, stated that 40% of all new infections were being diagnosed among the ultra-Orthodox although they represent only 8% of the total population.
“That worries us,” Gamzu said.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu spoke with leaders of several religious sects, pleading with them to ensure that their followers adhere to the emergency decrees and cancel holiday gatherings and mass weddings.
“At the moment, we’re assessing the situation in terms of the ultra-Orthodox communities,” Rosenfeld said. “The numbers there have increased over the last week and are incredibly high.”