Thousands of Israelis join anti government protests

Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out early elections, which opinion polls suggest he would lose

Reuters
Published : 2 April 2024, 03:47 AM
Updated : 2 April 2024, 03:47 AM

Thousands of Israelis took to the streets in Jerusalem on Monday, continuing a three-day protest against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demanding new elections.

The protests have gathered in intensity as the war in Gaza nears the end of its sixth month and anger at the government's handling of the 134 Israeli hostages still held by the Islamist movement Hamas in Gaza has grown.

"We're here to protest. To ask for having elections as soon as possible. We feel like we got it to the edge. We really need to get rid of Bibi," said Timna Benn, a protester in Jerusalem, using Netanyahu's nickname.

Netanyahu's right-wing coalition faced some of the biggest protests in Israel's history last year, when hundreds of thousands joined weekly demonstrations against plans to overhaul the powers of the Supreme Court, which protesters saw as an attack on Israel's democratic foundations.

Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out early elections, which opinion polls suggest he would lose, saying that to go to the polls in the middle of a war would only reward Hamas.

He has pledged to bring the hostages home and destroy Hamas, the Islamist movement that ruled Gaza, where more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed during Israel's months-long assault, according to Hamas-run health authorities.

But after months when the crisis in Gaza put the normal rules of politics on hold, Netanyahu has faced increasingly vocal opposition.

Surveys indicate that most Israelis blame Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, for the security failures that led to the devastating attack by Hamas fighters on communities in southern Israel on Oct 7, in which around 1,200 were killed, according to Israeli tallies, and scores of hostages taken.

"They are not concerned about what happens in the country and with the people. They are concerned about maintaining their position in government. They work for themselves, not for the people. Simple as that," said protester Refael Shakked-Gavish.

Adding an additional complication, Netanyahu also has faced protests by ultra Orthodox Jewish demonstrators, angry at the removal of exemptions that have kept young students from religious seminaries from compulsory military service.