Thousands of protesters gather to call for Netanyahu’s resignation, despite a strict second lockdown

Israeli protesters gather during a demonstration amid a second lockdown in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem – EMMANUEL DUNAND /AFP

Thousands of Israelis protested outside the residence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, demanding his resignation over how the government has handled the coronavirus pandemic.

The protests continue weeks of anti-Netanyahu demonstrations despite a strict lockdown order and one of the worst infection rates in the world. 

Draconian new lockdown measures came into force on Friday that closed many businesses, banned large gatherings and ordered people to stay close to their homes. Protesters say Mr Netanyahu’s government is bungling the response to the pandemic. 

The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, failed to pass a measure that would ban the right to protest more than a kilometre away from home which would have seen an end to the weekly demonstrations outside Mr Netanyahu’s official residence. 

Mr Netanyahu rejected allegations that tougher lockdown rules were in part intended to quash the protests, which he has often called “anarchist” and “ludicrous”.

“We need the lockdown in order to save lives,” he said on Thursday. The Prime Minister has pushed hard for the ban on demonstrations, which have surged throughout the summer. 

Some protesters said Mr Netanyahu’s efforts to curb the demonstrations was a driving force for them attending.

Protesters also say Mr Netanyahu shouldn’t remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.

With one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world, many protesters make an effort to social distance by standing in marked spots or attending car rallies. 

The country has reported more than 229,000 cases since the pandemic began, including 1,450 deaths. It currently has more than 68,000 active cases, including 749 patients in serious condition.

Israel is marking the holiest day in the Jewish calendar on Sunday as Yom Kippur begins at sundown. 

As part of the latest tightening of lockdown measures, Israelis can only pray in open areas close to home, with gatherings limited to 20 people. 

Synagogues will be allowed to open for limited prayers with social distancing despite warnings from health experts that it could lead to a rise in infections.