Israel's Netanyahu compares media to North Korea over protests against him

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu railed on Sunday at swelling protests against his rule, saying they are egged on by a biased media that distorts facts and cheers on the demonstrators.

Mr Netanyahu has faced a wave of protests in recent weeks, with demonstrators calling for the long-serving, indicted leader to resign and panning his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Mr Netanyahu has painted the protests as dens of "anarchists" and "leftists" out to topple "a strong right-wing leader."

The protests have largely been peaceful. In some cases they have ended with clashes between demonstrators and police. In others, small gangs of Mr Netanyahu supporters and individuals affiliated with far-right groups have assaulted demonstrators.

In a six-minute rant at a meeting of his Cabinet, Mr Netanyahu slammed the media for "inflaming" the protests and for misrepresenting incidents of violence against the protesters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a mask, stands inside the courtroom as his corruption trial opens at the Jerusalem district court. Reuters

A live TV broadcast shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his lawyers entering the district court where he is facing a trial for alleged corruption crimes in Salah el-Din, East Jerusalem, Israel. EPA

Protesters opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gather during a demonstration outside his residence in Jerusalem, Israel. EPA

A protester against Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a face mask during a protest outside his residence in Jerusalem. AP Photo

Protesters opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu march while holding a banner during a demonstration outside the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem, Israel. EPA

A convoy transporting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the district court of Jerusalem for a long-delayed corruption trial. AFP

Israeli security forces stand guard as a convoy transporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives at the district court of Jerusalem for a long-delayed corruption trial. AFP

"There has never been such a distorted mobilisation — I wanted to say Soviet but it has already reached North Korean terms — of the media in favour of the protests," he said.

Mr Netanyahu said the media ignored "wild and unfettered incitement, including daily calls — including the day before yesterday — to murder the prime minister and his family."

He said the protests were breeding grounds for the virus that were being allowed to take place with no limits, shutting down streets and neighborhoods. He said right-wing protests have not been given such free rein.

He condemned violence "from all sides" at the start of his remarks before tearing into the media he has long viewed as hostile toward him.

Also at the Cabinet meeting, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who is the country's "alternate" prime minister under a power-sharing deal, said the protests must be allowed to take place with protesters shielded from violence.

"The right to protest is the lifeblood of democracy and violence is the erosion of the foundation of democracy," he said.

While the demonstrations have largely been peaceful, there have been signs of violence in recent days. Some protesters have clashed with police, accusing them of using excessive force, while small gangs of Mr Netanyahu supporters affiliated with a far-right group have assaulted demonstrators. Mr Netanyahu has claimed demonstrators are inciting violence against him.

Israeli police have arrested some 20 far-right activists in recent days and police said they were on high alert for violence at the demonstrations. Several arrests of Mr Netanyahu supporters were reported Saturday, including a man who got out of his car in the northern city of Haifa and threw a stone toward a crowd of protesters. Police said a 63-year-old woman was slightly hurt.

The demonstrations are organised by a loose-knit network of activist groups. Some object to Mr 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 the grassroots movement.

Many of the demonstrators, including many young unemployed Israelis, accuse Mr Netanyahu of mishandling the coronavirus crisis and the economic damage it has caused.

Mr Netanyahu's tirade came as his son Yair Netanyahu was summoned to a Jerusalem court after tweeting the names, addresses and phone numbers of prominent protesters, calling his followers to demonstrate outside their homes "day and night." The court granted the 28-year-old Netanyahu an exemption from appearing in court. Protesters said they received threatening calls after the tweet.

Updated: August 2, 2020 04:43 PM

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