Protests in Israel turned violent on Tuesday night as thousands took to the streets angered by Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Demonstrators broke through barricades, blocked rail services and clashed with police as dozens of officers were injured by flying objects and a TV crew was attacked.
More than 50 arrests were made as police desperately tried to disperse crowds in Jerusalem, where up to 2,000 protesters gathered outside Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street.
President Reuven Rivlin tweeted that “we cannot in good conscience tolerate such images, this is not our way,” as anger was directed towards Israel’s strictly Orthodox population, which is seen as having ignored advice to stop the virus’s spread.
Hundreds demonstrated at the entrance to Beitar Illit, which is currently under lockdown due to surging coronavirus infection rates, with protesters demanded compensation for the Charedi community.
At Clore Park in Tel Aviv hundreds more gathered to mark nine years since the start social justice protests in the summer of 2011. The same organisers in 2011, including former parliamentarian Stav Shaffir and Dafni Leaf, addressed the crowd.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said protests were fine but violence was not. “The Balfour Street protest is justified and correct, but nothing can justify violence against police and journalists,” he said. “We have no other country, no other police.”
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The wave of anger comes as infection rates continue to skyrocket, with 1,718 people testing positive for coronavirus on Tuesday, according to the Health Ministry. Currently 183 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, 56 of whom are on ventilators.
Netanyahu has admitted that lockdown was eased too early but criticised Israelis for not following social distancing rules, while Israeli media reported that he was at odds with Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz on several coronavirus-related measures.
Former army boss Amos Yadlin was scathing, saying the government’s “failure in handling the coronavirus crisis is proving with every passing day to be growing into the dimensions of a national catastrophe.”
Likewise, former Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov said 1,000 Israelis could die “if steps are not taken immediately”, adding: “We’ve lost control and decisions about [another] lockdown need to be made immediately.”