Thousands of Israelis demonstrated in Jerusalem on Saturday evening against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, just three days before new parliamentary elections set to decide his political survival.
Demonstrators have gathered every Saturday evening since the end of June in Jerusalem and other cities to protest against Netanyahu, who has been indicted for corruption and is criticised for Israel”s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the compensation provided to those who have lost their jobs.
But the 39th Saturday of protest outside Netanyahu’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem has special significance, coming days before polling stations open on Tuesday. It will be Israel’s fourth parliamentary election in two years.
The last three saw Netanyahu and his rival, ex-army chief Benny Gantz, neck and neck. Gantz finally decided to ally with his political enemy to form a unity government, which survived a few months.
Gantz’s political star has faded since, but Netanyahu, 71, faces at least three major challengers: Yaïr Lapid, Gideon Saar, and Naftali Bennett. Lapid is a centrist, Saar a former Likud ally and Bennett a right-winger expected to secure as many as ten seats in the Israeli parliament.
Sarr’s party is also expected to win 10 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, with Lapid looking at as many as 30. It is likely that Netanyahu’s Likud will need to strike a coalition deal with at least one of his rivals in order to reach a 61 seat majority in parliament.
However, it could take weeks of horse-trading after election day to secure a coalition.
Netanyahu has made Israel’s successful handling of the coronavirus pandemic a key electoral issue, with at least 50% of Israelis already having been vaccinated and life in parts of the country starting to return to normal.
But on the streets on Saturday, Netanyahu remained as unpopular as ever.
“This is the first time that we are coming to the protests and we hope they will have an impact on those who do not yet know who to vote for,” said Hagit, a protester.