Thousands took part in protests against far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his neoliberal government’s confused and inconsistent response to the coronavirus throughout Israel Saturday evening, July 18, including the two largest demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. In both cities, 4-figure protests initially began in areas designated by police but later spilled over into the surrounding streets, with demonstrators marching through the streets and occasionally clashing with cops. Fifteen protesters were arrested in Jerusalem and 13 were detained in Tel Aviv. Another large protest is scheduled to be held tomorrow, Tuesday, July 21, in Haifa
The organizers of the Jerusalem protest said they were gathering to condemn the “government’s failure to manage the crisis.” The demonstration was attended by many young activists who have been frequenting anti-Netanyahu rallies in recent weeks, among them Communist youth, joining a generally older crowd of demonstrators who have for years been calling for the premier’s ouster due to the corruption allegations he faces.
In Tel Aviv, self-employed, business owners and unemployed hit by the pandemic-related closures initially sought to hold their protest in Rabin Square, where last week at least ten thousand took part in a similar rally. However, police vetoed a large demonstration at that location and so the venue was moved to the Charles Clore Park near the sea. Addressing the Tel Aviv rally, well-known actress and comedian Orna Banai said it was time for “Netanyahu to go home.” She elaborated: “I don’t remember there ever having been a government so cruel, disconnected and bereft of values such as justice, honesty and compassion.” Banai claimed that Netanyahu was busy “dismantling the welfare state” rather than dealing with the economic ravages of the coronavirus. Social worker Suheir Deksah told the gathering: “If the government listened and cared, I’d tell them a million unemployed is a disaster. I would tell them that people with an empty refrigerator is not ‘bullshit.’ They’ve thrown an entire public into a struggle for survival, while Netanyahu seeks tax benefits [for himself] and tycoons make huge profits.”
The social workers’ strike entered its third week today and since July 6 they have been protesting daily throughout Israel to decry the collapse of the government’s social services, an outrageous overload of cases, low pay and workplace violence. As part of the strike, all social services in government ministries and local authorities have been shut down.
In addition, nurses are preparing to declare a nationwide strike today amidst a severe shortage of medical workers and an explosion in the number of COVID-19 patients after the country precipitously reopened from the lock down in the second half of May, signaling to many people that they could dispense with masks and social distancing. “Even before the pandemic, there was a shortage of 1,500 nurses,” said Ilana Cohen, head of the Israel Nurses’ Union. “Now they’ve reopened the coronavirus wards, so do the math. Where are they going to get the nurses for these coronavirus units? From existing staff.”
Hit by high unemployment, a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and growing coronavirus curbs, Israelis have taken to the streets during recent weeks in almost daily demonstrations against the far-right government. Unemployment in Israel is at some 21% — 850,000 people — and is rising, as restrictions imposed amid record daily coronavirus infections further batter the economy. Confirmed virus cases are currently increasing at the rate of 1,800-1,900 per day. That is virtually the equivalent per capita rate of the reported new coronavirus cases in the United States (currently about 68,000). The death toll since the start of the pandemic passed the 400 mark on Saturday night, which for a country with a population of 8.9 million, is only a tenth of the mortality rate for the US, which has a national population of 328 million. However, the number of seriously ill and those being artificially respirated in Israel is increasing exponentially, after having been dramatically reduced before the end of the first lock down.
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