Protests Keep Up Against Israeli PM as New Election Looms

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Hundreds of Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, calling on the long-serving leader to resign just days after the country was plunged into a new national election.

The protesters have been gathering outside Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence for months, slamming him for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and saying he cannot lead the country while under indictment for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate corruption cases. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.

Protesters held signs urging Netanyahu to “Go,” and declaring “We won't stop protesting until you get out of our lives.”

While turnout was lower than previous demonstrations amid colder weather, the protesters have a new impetus because Israel appears headed toward its fourth election in two years in March, in which Netanyahu faces new challenges from defectors from his conservative Likud Party.

The election will likely be another referendum on Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving leader and also one of its most polarizing. It will come just after Netanyahu's trial enters its evidentiary stage, which will likely lodge the corruption charges against him firmly in the public discourse during what is expected to be a bitter, divisive campaign.

Saturday's protest came a day before Israel heads into its third national coronavirus lockdown, with much of the economy again shutting down amid surging infection numbers. Critics say Netanyahu and his so-called “emergency” government — set up in the spring specifically to deal with the virus — bungled their response, bringing the country to another costly lockdown.

Netanyahu points to the country's current vaccination campaign, which has among the world's highest per capita inoculation numbers, as the country's way out of the worldwide health crisis.