Israeli police were deployed to protect protesters after a right-wing extremist called current protestors "germs", hinting they could meet violent opposition.
Thousands of demonstrators have thronged the streets near the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in central Jerusalem in a renewed show of strength as weeks of protests against the Israeli leader showed no signs of slowing.
Throughout the summer, thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets, calling for Netanyahu to resign, protesting his handling of the country’s coronavirus crisis and saying he should not remain in office while on trial for corruption charges. Self-employed workers whose businesses have been hurt by the economic crisis also joined Saturday's march.
Though Netanyahu has tried to downplay the protests, the gatherings only appear to be getting stronger.
In Jerusalem on Saturday, protesters held Israeli flags, blew horns and chanted slogans against Netanyahu. Some held posters that said “Crime Minister” or called him “out of touch.” A large banner projected onto a nearby building said “Balfour is in our hands,” a reference to the street where Netanyahu lives.
The demonstrators accuse Netanyahu of corruption and the country's bloated coalition government of failing to recognise the suffering of its citizens.
An estimated 1,000 also protested at an intersection near Netanyahu's beach house in the upscale coastal town of Caesaria.
There was a heavy police presence at the demonstrations but no reports of violence in the loud but orderly protests.
Police guard protesters
Israeli police were deployed to protect protesters after the right-wing extremist Yona Avrushmi, the convicted killer of a 1983 peace marcher called present-day demonstrators "germs" and hinted they could meet violent opposition.
Avrushmi served 27 years in prison for hurling the hand grenade that killed activist and teacher Emil Grunzweig and wounded nine others during a Jerusalem protest against Israel's war in Lebanon.
On Friday night, he told private Israeli Channel 12 TV that he would not be going to Saturday's rally but there would be others who shared his love for Netanyahu and hatred of his opponents.
"There are young guys who can go there, they know what to do," he said.
Protest organisers took the comments seriously and said they had filed a police complaint against Avrushmi for incitement to violence.
Largest protests in nine years
The rallies against Netanyahu are the largest Israel has seen since 2011 protests over the country’s high cost of living.
After moving quickly to contain the virus last spring, many believe Israel reopened its economy too quickly, leading to a surge in cases. The country is now coping with record levels of coronavirus, while unemployment has surged to over 20 percent.
Many of the demonstrators, including many young unemployed Israelis, accuse Netanyahu of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and the economic damage it has caused.
Netanyahu has dismissed the demonstrators as “leftists” and “anarchists” and inciting violence against him. He also accuses the local media of strengthening the demonstrations by giving them heavy coverage.
Netanyahu's son, Yair, this week caused a public uproar when he described the protesters as “aliens.” Many protesters on Saturday dressed up as visitors from outer space to mock the comments.
While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, there have been signs of violence in previous weeks. Some protesters have clashed with police, accusing them of using excessive force, while small gangs of Netanyahu supporters affiliated with a far-right group have assaulted demonstrators. But recent gatherings have taken place without incident.
The demonstrations, taking place several times a week at locations around the country, are organized by a loose-knit network of activist groups. Some object to Netanyahu remaining in office while he is on trial.
He has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals. Many carry black flags, the name of one of the grassroots movements.