Severity: Warning Alert

Civil Unrest: Israel issues new regulations for protests during the nationwide lockdown through Oct. 11. Further demonstrations likely.

Alert Begins 19 Sep 2020 01:08 AM UTC
Alert Expires 30 Sep 2020 11:59 PM UTC

  • Event: Anti-government protests
  • Location(s): Nationwide, primarily Jerusalem and Tel Aviv (map)
  • Time Frame: Through at least Sept. 30
  • Impact: Heightened security, localized transport disruptions; possible clashes

Summary
Authorities in Israel issued new regulations for protests during the country’s nationwide lockdown from 1400 Sept. 18 - Oct. 11; the lockdown is in effect to combat a recent surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases. Police will allow demonstrations, provided the participants divide into smaller groups of 20 people each. Protest organizers will be required to appoint ushers to supervise and assist protestors in separating and maintaining distance between the groups. Authorities will expand the area allotted to demonstrators to accommodate the new distancing criteria. Protesters must observe social-distancing requirements and wear facemasks.

Anti-government demonstrations will likely continue nationwide in Israel through at least Sept. 30, following 11 consecutive weeks of frequent protests denouncing alleged corruption and the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Activists have been demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation in the wake of his indictment on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. Public frustration has further grown in response to the negative economic impact of COVID-19; protesters allege that the government has provided insufficient financial support to citizens and businesses.

Protests have been particularly common in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on weekends, drawing thousands of participants. However, demonstrations have also been reported in cities nationwide during the week. At least 20,000 people protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, Aug. 29, in the movement's largest demonstration yet.

Frequent demonstrations have also taken place outside Netanyahu’s various residences, including his private home in the coastal town of Caesarea. Future demonstrations could focus on traditionally popular protest sites, such as prominent public squares, city centers, and government buildings across the country. In Tel Aviv, popular protest sites include Rabin, Habima, and Dizengoff squares. In Jerusalem, demonstrations have occurred outside government ministries, near the Prime Minister's Office, and at Ha-Shabat Square. Localized transport disruptions are likely near all protests.

Recent anti-government gatherings have also led to clashes between protesters and police. Such confrontations are possible if protesters are overly disruptive or fail to observe existing COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and police instructions. Clashes between protesters and Netanyahu supporters have also occurred at demonstrations nationwide. Police have been arresting perpetrators of violence and have increased security deployments to protect demonstrators; however, further similar incidents cannot be ruled out.

Background and Analysis
Netanyahu’s corruption trial commenced May 24. He was formally charged in late January following a nearly three-year-long investigation into allegations that he accepted gifts in exchange for political favors, as well as used bribery and political clout to influence the media in exchange for better coverage. Netanyahu is the country’s first prime minister to be indicted while in office. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and maintains that the charges are politically motivated.

Netanyahu and his chief political rival Benny Gantz signed an agreement to form a national emergency government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic on April 20. The agreement followed three consecutive national elections that failed to bring about a majority government and end the country's year-long political stalemate. Many protesters claim that the coalition government allows Netanyahu to evade criminal charges and endanger the country's democratic institutions. The negative economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has further increased public discontent towards Netanyahu and his administration. The re-imposition of COVID-19 restrictions amid increased infection rates and rising unemployment has seen Netanyahu’s approval rating drop to below 30 percent.

Advice
Avoid all announced or spontaneous protest actions due to the potential for violence. Exercise caution near likely protest locations. Monitor local media for protest activity, as organizers may not announce plans in advance. Confirm the availability of transport and allow additional time to reach destinations. Plan for increased security and localized transport disruptions near demonstrations. Follow all police instructions.


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