The government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu is facing a crisis of confidence.
Local police estimate that some 5,000 Israelis protested on Saturday in front of the official residence of the Prime Minister, furious at the government’s handling of the COVID-19 health crisis, the resultant economic shut down and the fact that one-in-five Israelis are out of work and many have very little savings left to live on.
At the same, hundreds more protested in Tel Aviv and in front of Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, reported the Times of Israel.
“The people at the top are dealing with crazy things -- instead of the economy and with people’s health – like tax breaks for Netanyahu. It’s time for him to resign,” one protestor named Gidi Carmon, 23, told Times of Israel.
“Take annexation — it’s not even about right or wrong, it’s about timing. How did they spend so much time on that in the middle of this crisis?” Carmon asked, referring to Israel’s declared intent to annex parts of the West Bank.The Jerusalem Post reported that "12 people were arrested on Saturday night during the protests in Jerusalem, including a 27-year old suspected of taking part in assaults in the area. The suspect was carrying a flare, gas spray and a substance suspected of being a dangerous drug.”
Many demonstrators shouted, “Bibi, go home!” the Post noted. “With all the crumbs they throw at us, we have no money for bread.”
There is a growing feeling throughout Israel that Netanyahu and his government let themselves get distracted in May and June away from COVID-19 and the economy by their desire to “annex,” or peacefully incorporate, sections of Judea and Samaria into the current sovereign Jewish state.
Having initially done an excellent job dealing with COVID in March and April, the number of cases spiked dramatically in July.
On a daily basis now, Israel is seeing upwards of 1,500 to 2,000 new cases.
As of Saturday evening, the death toll had risen to 455.
Amy Spiro, Jerusalem correspondent for the Jewish Insider, reported on July 24 that “36,893 new cases were confirmed in the past month,” noting, “that's 63% of all COVID-19 cases in Israel since the beginning of the outbreak.”
As the number of COVID cases soared, Netanyahu’s approval ratings have plummeted.
“According to a Channel 13 poll, 61 percent of Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and 75% are unhappy with how his government has handled the economic fallout of the pandemic,” reported the Times of Israel. “Only 16% said that they were satisfied with the government’s economic response.”
“This marked a stark reversal from how the public viewed the prime minister in April during the first wave of the virus,” noted the Times, “when 70% were either satisfied or very satisfied with his performance.”
Spiro was citing official Israeli government data.
Can Netanyahu and his team turn the twin public health and economic crises around? Will they have to entirely shut down the Israeli economy all over again to do so? Will schools reopen, or be delayed? What will happen to the tourism industry, upon which so many Israelis depend for their livelihood?
For the moment, there are far more questions than answers.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.