Benjamin Netanyahu has accused thousands of Israelis demonstrating against him as “trampling on democracy” and “incubating” coronavirus.
The Israeli prime minister, who has refused to resign despite being taken through the courts on corruption charges, has been accused of ordering a heavy-handed response to protesters calling him the Israeli “crime minister”.
More than 10,000 marched through Jerusalem on Saturday night in what Netanyahu’s rivals said was democracy in action, but some demonstrators were dragged away by riot police and others knocked off their feet by water cannon.
Netanyahu and the man who will next year take over from him – Defence Minister Benny Gantz – clashed during Sunday’s cabinet meeting, highlighting the ill feeling between the two men.
Gantz said: “Regrettably, [the demonstrators] were attacked yesterday once again at several locations. The right to protest is the life’s breath of democracy, and violence erodes the foundation of democracy.”
However, Netanyahu said: “What we have here is an attempt in the name of democracy to trample democracy. No-one is restricting the demonstrations. To the contrary, they are coronavirus incubators.”
Weekly demonstrations against Netanyahu’s continued rule and his much-criticised handling of the pandemic have embarrassed the prime minister and caused his approval ratings to plummet, which he has blamed on the media and “left-wingers”.
Pro-Netanyahu outlets this week said that the protests, which have been taking place in towns and cities including Tel Aviv, were part of a “left-wing plot” to overthrow the government, despite ministers supporting them.