Tens of thousands rally against Netanyahu in Jerusalem chanting ‘elections now’


Anti-government protesters launch a prolonged demonstration calling for Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to resign and a general election in the wake of the deadly October 7 attack on Israel by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and the ensuing war in Gaza, in front of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, March 31, 2024.

JERUSALEM, March 31 (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Jerusalem on Sunday against Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and against exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewishmen from military service, in scenes reminiscent of mass street protests last year.

Protest groups, including some that led the mass demonstrations that rocked Israel in 2023, organised the rally outside parliament, the Knesset, calling for a new election to replace the government.

The protesters also want a more equal share in the burden of army service that binds most Israelis. Around 600 soldiers have been killed so far since the Hamas attack of Oct. 7 and the ensuing war in Gaza, the military’s highest casualty toll in years.

Israel’s N12 News said it appeared to be the largest demonstration since the war began. Haaretz and Ynet news sites said it drew tens of thousands of people.

Netanyahu’s cabinet has faced widespread criticism over the security failure of the Hamas attack on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage to Gaza.

“This government is a complete and utter failure,” said 74-year-old Nurit Robinson, at the rally. “They will lead us into the abyss.”

Israel’s war in the Palestinian enclave has aggravated a longstanding source of friction in society that is also unsettling Netanyahu’s coalition government – exemptions granted to ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students from service in the country’s conscript military.

With a March 31 deadline looming for the government to come up with legislation to resolve a decades-long standoff over the issue, Netanyahu filed a last-minute application to the Supreme Court last week or a 30-day deferment.

In an apparent accommodation, the Supreme Court gave government officials until April 30 to submit additional arguments. But, in an interim ruling, it also ordered a suspension of state funding for seminary students who would be liable for conscription from Monday.

Protesters were waving blue and white Israeli flags and chanting “elections now”.

At a news conference in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he was confident a solution will be found. He also said that holding an election at the height of war, when he said Israel was so close to victory, would paralyse the country for months.

In Tel Aviv, some families of hostages and their supporters, blocked a main highway, protesting against what they described as Netanyahu’s failure to return their loved ones.

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