Demonstrators want the long-serving Israeli PM to resign over handling of coronavirus crisis and corruption charges.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has railed at swelling protests against his rule, saying they are being egged on by a biased media.
Netanyahu has faced a wave of protests in recent weeks, with demonstrators calling for the long-serving leader to resign, panning his handling of the coronavirus crisis, and saying he should not remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.
In a nearly six-minute rant at a meeting of his cabinet, Netanyahu slammed the media for “inflaming” the protests – devoting disproportionate air time to them – and for distorting incidents of violence against the protesters.
“In the name of democracy, I see an attempt to trample on democracy,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu’s statements came after thousands of demonstrators gathered outside his official residence in central Jerusalem, while smaller anti-government gatherings were also held in Tel Aviv, near his beach house in central Israel and at dozens of busy intersections nationwide.
An Israeli court on Sunday also ordered Netanyahu’s son to delete a tweet in which he published the personal details of anti-government protest leaders and ordered him to stop “harassing” petitioners.
Yair Netanyahu, 29, wrote on Twitter on Thursday: “I invite everyone to come to protest, day and night (the Supreme Court says it’s allowed), at the homes of these people that are organising for us all the anarchy in the country in recent weeks.”
He attached a court document with the names, adresses and telephone numbers of five activists, who complained to Jerusalem’s Magistrate Court that followers of Yair’s Twitter account had made threatening phone calls to them and trespassed onto the yard of one of them.
Judge Dorit Feinstein said the wording of the tweet, combined with his publication of the court document, constituted “incitement to harassment”.
“I order the respondent to remove the tweet,” she wrote in her ruling, seen by dpa news agency.
Yair Netanyahu should “refrain from harassing the petitioners in any shape or manner, including by means of a third person, for the duration of six months,” she said.
The demonstrations on Saturday were among the largest turnouts in weeks of protests. Though Netanyahu has tried to play down the protests, the twice-a-week gatherings show no signs of slowing.
Israeli media estimated that at least 10,000 people demonstrated near the official residence in central Jerusalem. Late on Saturday, thousands marched through the streets in a noisy but orderly rally.
Demonstrators waved Israeli flags and blew horns as they marched. Many held posters that said “Crime Minister” and “Bibi Go Home” or accused Netanyahu of being out of touch with the public.
Hundreds of people remained in the area well after midnight, ignoring calls by police to leave.
Anti-riot forces moved into the area and began clearing out people. As of early Sunday morning, most of the remaining protesters appeared to be leaving peacefully, but police were seen dragging some activists away.
Clashes with police
The rallies against Netanyahu are the largest Israel has seen since 2011 protests against the country’s high cost of living.
Netanyahu has dismissed the demonstrators as “leftists” and “anarchists”.
Late on Saturday, his Likud party issued a statement that accused Israel’s two private TV stations of giving “free and endless publicity” to the protesters and exaggerating the importance of the gatherings.
While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, there have been signs of violence in recent days.
Some protesters have clashed with police, accusing them of using excessive force, while small gangs of Netanyahu supporters affiliated with a far-right group have assaulted demonstrators. Netanyahu has claimed demonstrators are inciting violence against him.
Israeli police have arrested some 20 far-right activists in recent days, and police said they were on high alert for violence at the demonstrations.
Several arrests of Netanyahu supporters were reported on Saturday, including a man who got out of his car in the northern city of Haifa and threw a stone towards a crowd of protesters. Police said a 63-year-old woman was slightly hurt.
The demonstrations are organised by a loose-knit network of activist groups. Some object to Netanyahu remaining in office while he is on trial. He has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals. Many carry black flags, which have given their name to the grassroots movement.
Many of the demonstrators, including many young unemployed Israelis, accuse Netanyahu of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and the economic damage it has caused.
After moving quickly to contain the virus earlier in the year, many believe Israel reopened its economy too quickly, leading to a surge in cases.
The country is now coping with record levels of coronavirus, while unemployment has surged to more than 20 percent.
As of Sunday, there were more than 72,000 coronavirus cases reported in Israel with more than 530 confirmed deaths.
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