İrem UZUN -TDO- Israel’s parliament approved a government-backed edict on Wednesday likely to stifle protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over alleged corruption and his handling of the coronavirus crisis. The legislation, which gives the government powers to declare a “special emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic”, was ratified early after an all-night debate in the Knesset.

With Israel facing one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, the tough lockdown rules went into effect Friday, closing many businesses, banning large gatherings and ordering people to stay close to home. Netanyahu has pushed hard for a ban on the demonstrations, claiming they pose a threat to public safety, and he has threatened to declare a state of emergency to halt the unrest. But his opponents accuse him of using the health crisis as a pretext to put a halt to weeks of demonstrations against him. For over three months, thousands of people have thronged the streets of central Jerusalem near Netanyahu’s residence, calling on him to step down. Protesters say Netanyahu shouldn’t remain in office when he is on trial for corruption charges and accuse him of bungling the response to the coronavirus crisis. Many of the protesters are young, educated Israelis who have lost their jobs because of an economic downturn.

Many of the demonstrators hoisted Israeli flags. One large banner accused Netanyahu of “White House laundromat,” a reference to a Washington Post report last week that the Israeli leader brings bags of dirty laundry with him to be cleaned when he visits the White House. Others said “disgrace,” “ashamed,” and “Thou Shalt Not Steal,” quoting the Ten Commandments before Sunday evening’s start of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Late Saturday, Netanyahu released a video defending the new lockdown, acknowledging that mistakes “absolutely” were made in recent months, but saying there was no choice but to impose the restrictions. He made no mention of the protests, but urged people to stay out of synagogues and only pray outdoors on Yom Kippur.

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