Thousands protest Netanyahu; many ignore Israeli virus rules

JERUSALEM (AP) — Thousands of Israelis resumed their weekly protest Sunday outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in central Jerusalem, despite a new nationwide lockdown order aimed at curbing a raging coronavirus outbreak.

An exception allowing people to hold public demonstrations was included in the three-week lockdown imposed last Friday. But many participants in the gathering appeared to ignore social-distancing rules that order them to remain in small separated “capsules” of people.

Thousands of Israelis have participated in the protests throughout the summer, calling on Netanyahu to resign while he is on trial for corruption charges and accusing him of bungling the country’s coronavirus crisis.

In the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak near Israel's commercial hub of Tel Aviv, over 100 activists took to the streets and burned garbage to protest restrictions on gatherings for public prayers.

The demonstrations restarted hours after the end of the Jewish new year holiday, Rosh Hashana. Netanyahu’s government imposed the new lockdown just hours before the holiday began.

Israel’s first lockdown, in March and April, put a damper on Passover, the Jewish spring holiday marking the deliverance of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.

Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. His criminal trial began in June, but he has refused to step down from office and denies any wrongdoing.

After moving quickly to contain an outbreak last spring, Israel appears to have reopened its economy too quickly. The country now has one of the highest per-capita rates of coronavirus in the world, and critics say the new lockdown measures will hurt an already struggling economy.

Israel has recorded more than 180,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 1,200 deaths.