JERUSALEM (AP) — Several thousand demonstrators gathered outside the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, as weeks of protests against the Israeli leader showed no signs of slowing.
Saturday's demonstration in central Jerusalem, along with smaller gatherings in Tel Aviv and near Netanyahu's beach house in central Israel, was one of the largest turnouts in weeks of protests.
Throughout the summer, thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets, calling for Netanyahu to resign, protesting his handling of the country's coronavirus crisis and saying he should not remain in office while on trial for corruption charges.
Demonstrators hoisted Israeli flags, blew loud horns and held posters that said “Crime Minister" and accused Netanyahu of being out of touch with the public.
The rallies against Netanyahu are the largest Israel has seen since 2011 protests over the country's high cost of living.
Netanyahu has tried to play down the unrest, calling the demonstrators “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, they have grown increasingly violent 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.
The demonstrations are organized 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 of the demonstrators, including many young unemployed Israelis, accuse Netanyau of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and the economic damage it has caused.
After moving quickly to contain the virus last spring, 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 over 20%.