07/15/2020, 15.19
ISRAEL
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As thousands protest against Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Christian leader sees a new movement emerging

The protest against the prime minister and his government is growing over their failure to handle the country’s economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. The prime minister also faces a corruption trial. Police arrest at least 50 people. For Sobhy Makhoul, Israel needs a left-of-centre leader capable of taking up the challenge. After years of lethargy, there is an awakening.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The wave of protests in Israel against the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues. Some 50 people were arrested yesterday following clashes between thousands of protesters and the police.

The government has come in for serious criticism over its poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic, amid a surge in new cases (less serious according to scientists), and the economic crisis, whilst the prime minister is seen as unfit for office because of fraud and corruption which he must answer in court.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Sobhy Makhoul, a member of the Maronite Church in Jerusalem and administrator of the Christian Media Center, notes that Israel "is experiencing the birth of a new movement".

We are witnessing “limited centre and left-of-centre political actions, which have not been seen for some time: an awakening after so many years asleep, of lethargy. They include military, intellectuals, activists and citizens who openly challenge the prime minister, starting with the charges of corruption.”

For the Christian leader, Netanyahu "is mismanaging the coronavirus emergency" and has made mistakes “at the economic level, presenting two or three projects, including tax exemptions for the rich, many of whom are his associates. This has led to dissatisfaction.” This, coupled with allegations of corruption, has generated "a wave of protests that seem to grow" day by day.

For Sobhy Makhoul, unlike the past, "these protests will have a future" also because the pandemic has angered people, raised tensions and worsened the problems, starting with the economy "where Netanyahu has done little for ordinary people".

His government ally, the centrist leader Benny Gantz, also “does not seem to enjoy greater support in the population. He is also very weak, and attention is concentrated on the left, where a leader capable of harnessing support could finally emerge.”

Triggering the confrontation with the security forces was the attempt by a group of demonstrators to protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.

Hundreds blocked the main access roads to the holy city, especially Jaffa Street and the surrounding streets. The police moved in with water cannons and mounted officers.

Protesters shouted slogans and sang, waved flags, and carried anti-Netanyahu and anti-government banners. “Netanyahu’s corruption makes us sick," "Netanyahu resign" or "Crime Minister" read some of the placards carried by the crowd.

The central issue is the corruption trial that hangs over Netanyahu's head and which, according to critics, makes him unfit to lead the country during the COVID-19 pandemic and the annexation plan of the Palestinian territories.

Police said that protesters were taken into custody for causing public disturbance, vandalism and resisting public officials. Eight were remanded in custody, whilst the others were released on restricted conditions.

Protesters allegedly beat up a man suspected of being an undercover police officer. A dozen of pro-Netanyahu sympathisers demonstrated in support of the prime minister.

One anti-Netanyahu protester, Yasmin, said: “I was born in 1996. That means I have not known a world without Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu]. I don’t know what it is to have a decent prime minister, someone who thinks about the people.”

Meanwhile, unemployment is rising. The number of the unemployed rose from 3.4 per cent in February to 27 per cent in April, before falling to 23.5 per cent in May.

Many of the jobless cannot benefit from state subsidies, especially self-employed workers and small entrepreneurs. Promised financial aid has not reached those it was intended for.

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