Thousands of people gathered on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest the Israeli government’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.
The Israeli police did not give an estimate of the number of demonstrators, but the public television channel Kan 11 said that thousands of people were present at the square, a traditional gathering place.
Some 300 police were deployed to protect the demonstrators, maintain public order, and supervise the observation of social distancing measures, said the police.
Most of the demonstrators wore masks without standing two meters from each other, said an AFP journalist.
Some people held up signs that read
Let Us Breathe in Hebrew. An echo of
I Can’t Breathe, which has been used in protests against police violence around the world since the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black American, who died on May 25 when a white policeman pressed his knee to his neck for almost nine minutes.
Fears over employment and unemployment
The demonstration was organized by groups of self-employed workers, small businesses, but also artists, feeling abandoned by the government after the forced closure of their business and public places during the pandemic.
Student unions also participated in the rally to express their concerns in a context where many young people are now unemployed.
The unemployment rate in Israel has jumped in recent months, from 3.4% in February to 27% in April, before falling slightly in May to 23.5%. Data for June have not yet been released.
Israel had imposed strict confinement in mid-March. Only professionals in trades deemed essential were allowed to work and any public gathering was prohibited.
The government lifted some restrictions at the end of May.
However, the number of contaminations started to rise again, leading to the reestablishment of restrictions such as the closing of bars, nightclubs, gyms, and public swimming pools.
A “serious crisis of confidence”
While workers who found themselves out of work we’re able to claim unemployment benefits, the self-employed argue that many have been waiting for months for help promised by the government.
There is a serious crisis of confidence between the government and us, Shai Berman, one of the organizers of the demonstration, said on Saturday on the microphone of the Israeli public radio.
Like a large part of the population, we feel more and more in distress, we want to demonstrate, we don’t believe in promises, he added.
Berman was among a group of activists invited on Friday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and officials from the Ministry of Finance in a last-minute attempt to avoid the protest.
He tried, said Berman, adding that the aids presented were a good start but had flaws.
We will keep our commitments, said Mr. Netanyahu at the meeting according to his office.
On Friday, the Israeli Ministry of Health announced a record number of new infections, with more than 1,500 new cases registered the day before.
The country, which has a population of approximately 9 million, registered the first case of COVID-19 on its soil on February 21. Since then, the Hebrew State has recorded more than 36,000 contaminations, including more than 350 deaths.