Rage on the Street

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Tens of thousands of Israelis staged the largest anti-government protest since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, calling for new elections and a cease-fire deal that would free the remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza, Haaretz reported.

Protesters on Sunday took to the streets of central Jerusalem, some marching toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence, others demonstrating in front of parliament. Some blocked major highways and lit fires.

After the Palestinian group Hamas killed about 1,200 people in Israel and took 250 others hostage on Oct. 7, a majority of Israelis united in support of the war in the Gaza Strip. However, six months later, Netanyahu’s failure to bring home all the Israeli hostages has provoked rage and doubts about his leadership.

Some Israelis accused him of failing to prioritize the hostages. “I did not believe that I would have to fight against government officials for my brother’s right to return home,” one relative said at the rally in front of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Protesters also criticized a decision to continue a parliamentary recess and also a proposed bill to exempt Orthodox Jewish students from military conscription. Anti-government activists clashed with members of Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox communities.

Speaking in a televised address before undergoing hernia surgery on Sunday, the prime minister addressed protesters’ demands for a snap election, arguing it would bring the country to a standstill for six to eight months and accomplish one of Hamas’ wishes.

Despite naysaying from the United States, Israel’s closest ally, Netanyahu reiterated his ambition to launch a ground offensive in the southern Gazan city of Rafah. The city currently shelters more than a million Gazans fleeing a war that has killed over 32,000 Palestinians, according to the enclave’s Health Ministry.

Netanyahu, whose term should end in 2026 in the absence of an anticipated vote, faced overwhelming public disapproval and mass protests last year due to his government’s plans to reform the judicial system. The ensuing political instability facilitated Hamas’ surprise attack, opponents have said.

Protests had been paused after Oct. 7 but opinion polls show that Netanyahu and his coalition would lose a general election if it were held today, the Associated Press noted.

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