Anti-Netanyahu protest in Tel Aviv takes on remarkable appearance in days of corona

Opposition legislators blast prime minister for hiding behind the coronavirus crisis, while careful to keep their distance.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Some 2,000 Israelis protested Sunday evening in Tel Aviv against the government, but made sure to maintain a safe distance between themselves as they listened to opposition legislators lambaste both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Benny Gantz.

Health regulations prohibit large gatherings except for demonstrations, provided protesters maintain the required two-meter social distance from each other.

Protest organizers had marked out Rabin Square in front of Tel Aviv City Hall, where demonstrators wearing safety masks protested against Netanyahu’s plan to form a unity government with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, Ynet reported.

The event was a continuation of the previous black-flag protests that took place outside the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem that claimed Netanyahu was endangering Israel’s democracy.

Demonstrators waved black and Israeli flags and wore black shirts while carrying signs and placards against Netanyahu and Gantz.

Last month Gantz shocked Israeli politics by announcing that with the country facing an unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic, he would join a Netanyahu-led national unity government.

That move broke up the opposition coalition headed by his Blue and White Party, and his former colleagues called on him to walk back his decision.

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“Benny, you and I have been through hard times in order to get the country back on track,” said Telem Party leader Moshe Ya’alon. “I am convinced you have decided to enter a government with Netanyahu because of the emergency situation, but weeks have passed, and you are about to enter an over-bloated and wasteful administration.”

“Netanyahu doesn’t care about the virus, but only that he doesn’t end up in court,” Ya’alon said about Netanyahu’s corruption trial that was delayed due to the crisis. “It’s not too late for you to come back to us, together we will prevail.”

However, former Blue and White partner Yair Lapid who heads the Yesh Atid Party was less forgiving of Gantz than Ya’alon.

Gantz “betrayed Blue and White [and] is going to sit [in a government] with a defendant accused of fraud and breach of trust,” Lapid said.

Netanyahu has dismissed the corruption charges as the machinations of a hostile media and left-wing prosecutors.

Protesters say Netanyahu is using the coronavirus crisis to hold on to power while avoiding his trial. Only two days before the scheduled opening of the case on March 15, Justice Minister Amir Ohana, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party, postponed the trial citing the health crisis.

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Talks between Netanyahu and Gantz have repeatedly stalled, most recently over apparent demands by the prime minister to have more of a say in the appointment of judges.

On Monday, Gantz moved forward with legislation that would bar any public official charged with a crime from serving as prime minister. The proposed laws are seen as a lever to force Netanyahu to the negotiating table and an agreement on a unity government.