Blocked Roads, Clashes with Police: Thousands Rally Against Far-Right Gov’t; Labor Union Head Attacks Netanyahu

Thousands of anti-government demonstrators called for an early election and the removal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Be’er Sheva. Caesarea and gathered on Saturday at some 50 locations across Israel. The common theme at the multiple protests held across the country for several consecutive weeks on Saturday nights is against Netanyahu and his far-right government.

Two hundred Partnership for Peace members, among them Hadash and Communist Party of Israel activists, gathered in Tira against the war, Friday, February 16, 2024 (Photo: Zo Haderech)

At the weekly rally in Tel Aviv for the return of hostages from Gaza, organizers for the first time handed over the microphone for the entire duration of the event to the relatives of more than 40 families whose loved ones were abducted. Shlomo Alfasa Goren, a relative of Maya Goren, who was abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz and whose body is being held by Hamas, said during the meeting: “You, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and successive governments have abandoned us for years. You abandoned Holocaust survivors, including my 93-year-old parents, the health and welfare systems, the emergency room in Kiryat Shmona, the defense established that you had defunded and the residents of Sderot and Ofakim. You abandoned, abandoned, abandoned.”

In Tel Aviv, thousands defied police ban on holding a large rally against the government at Kaplan Street in front of the Ministry of Defence, ostensibly due to its proximity to the demonstration for the hostages. The Kaplan Street protesters blocked the road, where they also started at least one large fire and scuffled with police. Road blockages also occurred at the Ra’anana Junction, the coastal road and opposite the homes of multiple coalition members, including lawmakers Yuli Edelstein, Amir Ohana, the Knesset speaker and cabinet minister Ofir Akunis.

Hundreds of protesters calling for elections and an immediate hostage deal rallied in Jerusalem amid pouring rain on Saturday evening in what has become a weekly tradition for many in the city as the war drags on, with 134 hostages remaining in Hamas captivity. Like in previous weeks, the demonstration began outside the President’s Residence with brief speeches from anti-government activists and continued on to Paris Square, where family members of the hostages took to the stage right outside Netanyahu’s official residence. Many of the hostages’ family members who spoke Saturday decried Netanyahu’s decision this week to veto further hostage negotiations, opting not to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo, where talks were to take place. Members of the “Anti-Occupation Block”, among them Hadash and Communist Party of Israel activists, also gathered against the war in Gaza in Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa. Police said they arrested at least 10 people in various protests across the country.

On Friday afternoon, two hundred Partnership for Peace members gathered in Tira against the war. At the same time, dozens of Israeli activists gathered in Jerusalem to demand an end the criminal war on Gaza and its people. “We demand an end to the bombing, starvation and displacement. We demand a deal to bring back the hostages and secure a future of safety and freedom for all,” they said.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must resign,” chairman of the Histadrut labor federation Arnon Bar-David said on Saturday in what he called the first step of a “restart” for the State of Israel. “There is only one way out: Elections,” Bar-David agreed. “The prime minister should first of all take responsibility for what happened and then make his decisions. If I were him, I would resign.”

Bar-David, speaking at an event in Beersheba, attacked Netanyahu over his failure on October 7 and called for the prime minister to take responsibility and resign. He further called on the “disastrous” government to decide a date for new elections to place, adding that he believes Israel would have a new prime minister within 12 months. Bar-David also promised that the Histadrut would join protests and demonstrations against the far-right government, sparking concern over a potential strike across Israel’s work sector. “We may have to take to the streets” to press for elections, he warned. “I hope that won’t be necessary.”

In March 2023, the Histadrut announced a general strike amid mass protests as the far-right coalition attempted to push multiple bills through parliament to overhaul the country’s judiciary. That strike lasted a single day as Netanyahu quickly halted the legislation.