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'Start-up Nation' turns 'upstart' nation as 100,000 Israelis find legal ways to protest

Israelis legally bypass ban intended to quash anti-government demonstrations; Vote to curtail protests triggered vastly larger than normal turnout

Israelis protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a bridge in northern Israel. (Photo: Anat Hermony/Flash90)

Israelis have always been known for their ingenuity. And that was no less apparent on Saturday night when an estimated 100,000 Israelis headed out to protest under new restrictions that were meant to ban the protests altogether.

On Saturday, citizens gathered on bridges and at major junctions - all within the allowed 1-kilometer perimeter of their homes - by the tens of thousands in pockets around the country.

The number or protestors, though unconfirmed, far surpassed the weekly Jerusalem and Tel Aviv demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government that have been ongoing for months. In all actuality, the dispersed protests enabled more citizens than otherwise possible to attend a demonstration.

As part of coronavirus lockdown restrictions, the Knesset passed a controversial law last week to limit protests to groups of 20 people in a 1-kilometer radius from their homes. This ban enraged Israelis and apparently triggered the grassroots movement we saw on Saturday.

“There is no logic to the arbitrary decision,” the Black Flags Movement spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post. “It is only the logic of an accused man who is trying to stop the protests against him. Despite this, we call everyone to go out and protest according to the restrictions.”

The ban on protests was met with backlash within the government as well. Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir resigned after the Knesset voted in favor of the restrictions.

“My conscious does not allow me to remain in a government that de facto prevents demonstrations against its leader,” Zamir said.

And, in another major blow to the economy, opposition lawmakers noted that small businesses became unwitting victims of the 20-person limit.

“The small businesses are not being allowed to operate because it’s clear that if they had approved that, it would have legally brought down [the legitimacy] for a ‘special state of emergency’ allowing for demonstrations to be restricted,” Knesset Member Ayelet Shaked said.

While most demonstrations were smaller in number and peaceful on Saturday, larger crowds gathered in Tel Aviv where some protests turned violent. Police arrested 38 in Tel Aviv  “violating public order and attacking police officers” but demonstrators accused police of excessive force. News footage showed protesters being shoved or punched, and at least two - a husband and wife - were hospitalized after a brush with police.

Ynet reported that even Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai was injured when he was struck by police.

Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

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