Two thousand Israelis brave coronavirus fears to protest assault on democracy – Haaretz

Posted By on April 19, 2020

Some two thousand people are taking part in the "Black Flag" demonstration in Tel Aviv on Sunday evening, protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu andanti-democratic measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The protest included speeches by prominent lawmakers from the center-left bloc, including former co-leaders of Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan.

"This is how democracies die in the 21st century," said lawmaker Yair Lapid in his speech Sunday, "They don't die because tanks took over parliament, they die from the inside."

The "black flag" protests first gained recognition in March, when a motorcade of hundreds of cars made its way to Jerusalem to protest anti-democratic measures to combat the virus, including approval of Shin Bet phone tracking. "It started with the coronavirus, when they [the government] started passing anti-democratic bills," said Tamir Hefetz, one of the protest organizers. "I woke up and realized there is no alternative, tomorrow will be too late."

"The State of Israel is passing on to the public a responsibility that it should carry," said Gonen Ben Itzhak, another organizer.

Alarge number of police forces is also present at Rabin Square to enforce social distancing restrictions.

The protest was moved from a smaller venue so that organizers could comply with another police requirement to maintain a distance of two meters between protesters, as well as clusters of ten people separated by ten meters from the next group. The Police also required organizers to mark the spots where people can stand and saidspeakers must call on protesters to "maintain distance and wear a mask for the safety of the participants."

Apolicedocument obtained by Haaretz said organizers of the protest were forced to provide face masks to participants at their own expense.

In his speech, Lapid said Netanyahu has "turned the word democracy into a leftist word," and that Israel is undergoing anti-democratic processes similar to those which took place in Hungary and Turkey.

Lapid addressed the ongoing coalition negotiations between Netanyahu and Lapid's former political ally Benny Gantz. "Those who broke up Kahol Lavan and cheated us are going to be in government led by a fraud suspect," Lapid said, adding that Netanyahu has demanded power to appoint the police chief, state prosecutor and attorneys general as a condition for government.

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Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon, also a defector from Kahol Lavan, attacked the government for "starving" the public health system for decades because it prioritized political considerations. "Fighting on the field are devoted medical teams in hospitals and clinics, social workers and yes, among them are many Arabs, who are saving us despite our failed leadership," he said.

Arab lawmaker Ayman Odeh is also expected to speak at the protest, as well Dan Meridor, the former justice minister.

During a government conference call overnight Sunday, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan asked to limit protests, butPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahurejected his request, saying he could be perceived of trying to quash protests against him.

Last Friday, police handed out 5,000-shekel-fines ($1,400) to protesters in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. Similar fines were given last week to protesters outside the Kfar Saba home of Kahol Lavan lawmaker Gabi Ashkenazi.

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Two thousand Israelis brave coronavirus fears to protest assault on democracy - Haaretz

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