Hundreds protested in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening, June 4, against a bill that would introduce sweeping emergency regulations purportedly aimed at tackling the coronavirus pandemic. The protesters railed against far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of using the pandemic to advance legislation for his own political interests. The protesters also called on the public to participate in the mass rally against the occupation and annexation that stood to take place in Rabin Square, last night (Saturday, June 6).
The demonstration initially gathered in Rabin Square before leaving the large plaza at the intersection of King David Boulevard and Ibn Gabirol Sreet, blocking traffic along the latter, one of the city’s main north-south thoroughfares. Police forcibly broke up the rally arresting 12 demonstrators. The demonstrators raised claims of police brutality during the dispersal of the protest, with videos circulating on social media showing law enforcement using force excessive against some of the demonstrators who blocked the road.
The demonstrators, members of the “Crime Minister” movement, carried signs that said, “Bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” “Capital + power = Mafia” and “Netanyahu is destroying Israeli society.” They also chanted “Fighting against Corruption,” referring to the criminal charges against the Israeli premier for which he is currently being tried.
Leading up to the demonstration its organizers wrote: “Work on Corona Bill continues. We’re certain that this is a law with sinister intentions, being yet another piece of the plan to save the accused from [his ongoing] trial, while overriding our democracy.” Last week, Joint List MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash) likened the law to “anti-democratic legislation we have seen introduced in Erdoğan’s Turkey. That’s where this will take us.”
According to a draft of the bill, which was reported on late Sunday night, May 31, the government would be given special emergency powers to deal with the coronavirus for 45 days, and the Knesset would have the authority to extend the emergency period every 30 days for up to 10 months. Included in the so-called “Corona Law” is the ability to restrict visits to private homes, permission for police to enter homes without a warrant and use force to enforce regulations, and, crucially, power for the government to decide upon new measures without Knesset approval. According to the bill, the minister in charge of administering the law would be the prime minister himself.
Netanyahu was indicted last year on charges of fraud and breach of trust in three criminal investigations, as well as bribery in one of them. The cases center on accusations he received illegal gifts and traded political favors for positive news coverage. At the opening of his trial last month, Netanyahu once again denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the charges against him as a conspiracy by law enforcement, the media and political rivals to force him from office. He has not provided evidence for these claims.