New Elections Now! Thousands Protest Against Netanyahu’s Gov’t Across Israel

Thousands took to the streets across Israel Saturday night, February 3, to call for far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ouster and new elections, in demonstrations spanning from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Haifa, Karkur Junction and Caesarea in the north and Be’er Sheva in the south. Additional demonstrations were held in Kfar Saba, Modi’in, Eilat, Nes Tziona, Rehovot and more.

Demonstration against the massacre in Gaza. Protestors blocked Kaplan Street in Tel-Aviv holding a sign with the number of the Palestinian murdered by Israel, February 3, 2024 (Photo: Alon Marcus)

Speeches at the weekly Tel Aviv rally demanding the return of hostages held in Gaza took a more strongly political tone than ever before on Saturday night, with speakers accusing the government of Netanyahu of being indifferent to the hostages’ fate and Netanyahu of being guided by personal considerations and stalling to avoid investigations and elections. At previous rallies, he had urged participants to refrain from “engaging in politics.”

Ronen Manelis, a reserves brigadier general and former army spokesperson, elaborated on his lack of confidence in that leadership. “The Israeli leadership, the war cabinet, its head, are afraid to make the decision” to agree to a prisoner swap, said Manelis, “because they fear a temporary ceasefire would lead to criticism, to investigations, and would trigger the very necessary process of going back to the voters to renew their confidence in their leaders.”

Not far from Hostages Square at the Tel-Aviv Museum, several thousand people protested against the government on Kaplan Street Participants, including some relatives of hostages, intermittently blocked traffic on the adjacent Ayalon Highway and Ibn Gvirol streets amid clashes with police.

The Kaplan Street anti-government protest and another such rally at Habima Square took place for the sixth consecutive week, holding up signs and chanting slogans calling for Netanyahu’s resignation. Hundreds of protesters, among them members of the Anti-Occupation Block clashed with police forces and mounting officers at the demonstration against war. The police forcibly removed protesters who tried several times to block the road, and five of them were even arrested.

At the same time, a convoy of cars led by family members of hostages and activists demanding their release blocked Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. The protesters created a sign out of fire on the road with the inscription “HELP”, got out of the vehicles and waved signs demanding the release of the hostages as soon as possible: “The lives of the government – not at the expense of the lives of the hostages”, “Deal with all political price” and “Gantz: Hostages or leave”.

Another rally with thousands of participants marched through Jerusalem Saturday night demanding an immediate release of the hostages. Participants carried signs and chanted slogans critical of the government, including ones demanding Netanyahu’s resignation. They protested in front of President Isaac Herzog’s Residence, calling for more action to be taken to release the hostages and demanding the immediate announcement of elections. Yosef Angel, bereaved father and grandfather of 17-year-old Ofir Angel, who was released from captivity in Gaza, called on Netanyahu to step down in a demonstration in front of the President’s House, “Go and let those more responsible than you lead us, the people of Israel deserve much more.

Thousands participated in a demonstration in Haifa calling for the release of all the hostages and the ouster of Netanyahu. Despite the stormy weather, hundreds of demonstrators marched from Carmel center towards Horev junction, where the main rally was held. The author and historian Fania Oz-Salzberger, daughter of well-known Israeli author Amos Oz, said in a speech at the protest in Haifa that “before any revival, restoration, fusion and healing, the government of October 7 must be removed from the cabinet in Jerusalem to the depths of the blackest pages of Israel’s history. We will not let up, and we will not budge until the catastrophe government and the massacre will roll down all the stairs into the basement of the worst memories of the people of Israel, and a much better government will rise on its ruins.”

Moshe Radman Abutbul, one of the leaders of the protests against the Netanyahu’s coup, said in front of about 400 anti-government demonstrators in Be’er Sheva, that “we will not be satisfied with stories, and we will not accept any other solution except elections. We deserve a leadership with broad and united support that will give hope and begin the healing process that this nation and country so badly need.”

In Caesarea hundreds called for the resignation Netanyahu and the dissolution of the government. The demonstration was held in the Ralli Museum Square near Netanyahu’s house, with the participation of many residents who were evacuated from communities near the Gaza border and relocated to Kibbutz Sdot Yam near Caesarea. Ron Bessin, a retired teacher who was evacuated from Kibbutz Zikim, criticized the prime minister and his coalition for failing to pay a single visit to the center in Sdot Yam where he was relocated.

Bessin accused the government for the absence of military forces at the Gaza border during the October 7 attack, saying, “You took the rifles from the emergency squads. You protected the settlers and [racist MK] Zvi Succot, who were busy with provocations against Palestinians, and you neglected the field observers on the Gaza border, whose job it is to protect us.” He ended his speech with an appeal to Netanyahu: “As long as you remain prime minister, we have no hope. We have no faith in you or your government. Get out of our lives!”