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September 25, 2020 9:08 am

Israel Tightens Second-Wave Lockdown as Netanyahu, Critics Argue Over Protest Curbs

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

Israeli Border Police officers stand by a main road, in downtown Jerusalem, Sept. 25, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

Israel tightened COVID-19 lockdown measures on Friday as critics accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of trying to curb protests against his handling of the health and economic crises.

Netanyahu’s government decided on Thursday to tighten a three-week lockdown imposed on Sept. 18, forcing Israelis to stay mostly at home, shutting down most businesses and further restricting public protests as well as group prayers during the ongoing Jewish High Holiday season.

But while Netanyahu’s government has the authority to impose measures it deems urgent, including most curbs on movement, any restrictions on citizens’ rights to protest require parliamentary approval.

With parliament deadlocked over the protest measures, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party said it had proposed for cabinet approval “emergency regulations for a few days to prevent mass demonstrations that would cause the public to disregard the closure and endanger many lives.”

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Demonstrators have been gathering weekly outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, criticizing him over the economy, the pandemic and corruption allegations. He denies all wrongdoing.

The new lockdown rules in part restrict attendance at street protests to within 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) of citizens’ homes, effectively shutting down the demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s gate.

It was not clear whether Likud’s emergency measures would win cabinet approval. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said his Blue and White party “will not allow emergency regulations to be used to prevent demonstrations.”

“The decision on a stringent lockdown was designed to stop the spread of the virus, not to block protests,” he wrote on Twitter.

Without mentioning the curbs on protests, Netanyahu defended the new measures on Thursday, saying that Israelis had not complied with social-distancing requirements.

“Wake up. Enough is enough. We are in a different reality. Something needs to be done and it must be done now. A tight lockdown, especially during the holidays, when the economic cost is much lower,” he said in public remarks.

A first lockdown was imposed in Israel in late March and then relaxed in May as new cases tapered off. But infections have surged again in recent weeks, reaching daily highs of more than 7,000.

A survey published by the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute on Wednesday showed only 27 percent of Israelis trusted Netanyahu’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

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