Israel's Netanyahu Links Mass Protests to Jeffrey Epstein

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to dismiss mass protests against him by claiming they were organized by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and noting Barak's links to convicted U.S. sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Netanyahu is currently facing a raft of corruption charges while his government grapples with a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Public anger over the prime minister's alleged wrongdoing and the impact of the pandemic drove demonstrations across the country on Saturday, following other demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv last week.

Crowds gathered outside Netanyahu's official Jerusalem residence on Saturday, but on Sunday the prime minister tweeted an image of the demonstration and accused Barak of involvement.

The picture showed what appears to be a Palestinian Authority flag among protesters. Netanyahu wrote: "The cat is out of the bag: The Palestinian Authority flag in a left-wing demonstration organized by Ehud Barak, the partner of convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, yesterday outside the prime minister's house in Jerusalem. Shameful disgrace."

Barak has admitted he once had business ties with Epstein, though said last year he had cut all ties to the financier. He was named by Epstein accuser Virginia Roberts Giuffre as one of the prominent men she was forced to have sex with while being trafficked by Epstein, who took his own life while awaiting trial for sex trafficking in August last year.

Media reports and comments from Epstein's neighbors identified Barak as a repeated visitor to Epstein's properties in New York. The former prime minister has admitted to visiting Epstein's properties—including his infamous private Caribbean island—though said he never took part in sexual activity there.

Barak has described Epstein's crimes as "abhorrent." He has repeatedly denied any suggestion of wrongdoing.

Netanyahu is facing down protesters' demands for his resignation while trying to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control. Initial strict lockdown measures kept the daily number of new cases low, but since tight restrictions have been lifted the rate of infection has increased rapidly.

Israel is now registering almost 2,000 cases each day. Thus far, the country has reported a total of 50,289 infections and 409 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Netanyahu's coalition government—which he will lead until 2021 when he will hand power to former general and leader of the centrist Blue and White bloc, Benny Gantz—has been criticized for not doing enough to support those pushed out of work by lockdown measures.

A poll conducted by Israel's Channel 12 news published last week found that 46 percent of participants were satisfied with Netanyahu's overall performance, with 49 percent unhappy.

At the start of July before the rapid rise in new cases, 56 percent supported Netanyahu's performance compared with 36 percent who were dissatisfied. At the start of May with COVID-19 relatively under control, 74 percent approved of the prime minister's handling of the situation versus 23 percent who disapproved.

Economic concerns are central to this dissatisfaction. Only 33 percent of respondents thought Netanyahu was handling the financial crisis well, with 62 percent saying they were dissatisfied. At the start of May, 53 percent approved of the prime minister's performance on financial matters and 43 percent disapproved.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, coronavirus, Jeffrey Epstein, protests
Israelis take part in a demonstration on July 18, 2020, in Charles Clore Park in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv to protest against the Israeli government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images/Getty