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After more than six months of Israel's anti-government protests, demonstrators storm barricades outside prime minister's residence

Breach comes after Israelis' pent-up frustration with government policies boils over on Saturday

Demonstrators during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the PM's official residence in Jerusalem on Jan. 13, 2021. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

During protests last week outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence, Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their staff were reportedly rushed to a secure room after protesters breached a police checkpoint outside the building.

Netanyahu was able to return after 40 minutes when his security detail concluded that the situation was safe. Eight anti-Netanyahu protesters were arrested and security was beefed up around the prime minister’s residence.

But the protests against Netanyahu have been going on for more than six months, every Saturday night. So what caused the boiling over of tensions on this particular night?

Though the events in Jerusalem cannot be compared to the Jan. 6 breaching of the U.S. Capitol Building, protesters may have been inspired by the actions in America to try to enter the prime minister's residence.

However, while social and political divisions have increased in both Israel and the U.S. in recent years, the realities in the two countries are vastly different. The violent protests on Capitol Hill riots were linked a radicalized minority of Trump supporters who object to the outcome of the recent U.S. election. 

By contrast, the anti-Netanyahu protesters are a diverse group from several political persuasions and their demonstrations are unrelated to one specific event. But their common goal is the removal of Israel’s longest serving prime minister from power.

The anti-Netanyahu protests actually began years ago after Israeli police decided in December 2016 to investigate Netanyahu and several of his close aides. The demonstrations began then with relatively few - but dedicated - protesters. Over the years, they evolved into a weekly nationwide protest movement with tens of thousands of people protesting against Netanyahu and demanding his resignation. 

In 2017, thousands of Israelis protested under the slogan “March of Shame” in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu and government corruption. The demonstrators also opposed the so-called “French Law,” which could have been used to prevent an indictment against Netanyahu. The activist organization “Crime Minister” emerged as one of the leading groups in this movement.

While the protests originated from the Israeli political left and center, eventually many from the political right have joined. Former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert - who himself served a sentence in prison for fraud and bribery, as well as former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, have participated.

With political hawks and former allies like Ya’alon and former Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman joining and supporting the protests, it became increasingly more difficult for Netanyahu to dismiss the protesters as “leftists.” 

In January 2020, Netanyahu was officially indicted on charges of corruption in three separate cases - a first for a sitting Israeli prime minister. The criminal charges against Netanyahu are bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu has maintained that he is innocent and a target of a politically motivated witch hunt. Following Netanyahu’s indictment and with protests against him continuing to grow, an increasing number of political parties have vowed not to sit in a government with him.

The government's handling of COVID, which has resulted in over 20% unemployment and three national lockdowns, accelerated the protests in recent months. Thousands of disgruntled citizens have joined the anti-corruption rallies in the summer of 2020.

With successive lockdowns imposed in order to slow COVID infections and rampant unemployment and rising poverty as a result, many are blaming Netanyahu for this predicament.

Today, Netanyahu is increasingly seen by Israelis as someone who puts his personal interests ahead of the country’s political and economic needs, hence the protests against him are growing and spanning the political spectrum. Most protestors were not surprised when, due to the current lockdown, Netanyahu's trial hearing was delayed again, from this month to Feb. 8.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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