Thousands of Israelis are out in the streets demonstrating – not against the political right or left, but to preserve the democratic foundations of their young state.
This Snippet takes you on a tour through Israel’s traffic infrastructure – its bridges and intersections, as well as the Prime Minister's residence and Rabin Square. Not your usual tourist itinerary, but these demonstration sites are witnessing an outpouring of frustration. The demonstrators come from nearly all sectors of the population, and despite their despair,
sing the Tikvah together.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been our prime minister for over 8 years, off and on. He has just surpassed Ben Gurion's record as Israel’s longest-serving prime minster. Over recent years, controversy has surrounded Bibi, and Israelis are totally split on how they feel about this contentious leader.
Roughly a third of Israelis voted for the Likud (Netanyahu's party) at the last election. For the past several years, he has been able to stay in power by forming a coalition with smaller parties that, to some extent, align with his policies, political needs, and ideology. Some smaller, extreme right parties are then able to exert disproportionate influence on policy making, as Bibi cannot remain in power without their support. The remaining two thirds of Israelis are pretty much fed up with Bibi, and desperately want change. The performance of the current “unity government” that incorporates the more liberal Blue and White party has only managed to increase frustration.
Disclaimer: I'm one of those who are fed up with him. I realize it's only one side of things, but I want to share my point of view.
1st stop: The house on Balfour
Right next to Jerusalem's city center, this has been the official home of the Israeli Prime Minister since 1974, and is where the Netanyahu family currently lives. Right outside the fortified residence is a large intersection, with hotels and cafes. Over the years, it has become a major site for demonstrations. These days, every Saturday night, thousands of Israelis gather and put on a colorful show of drums and dancing, and display signs with very creative messages. Amongst the crowd you can spot grandparents, teens, parents with their toddlers, secular Jews and (some) religious knitted kippa Jews.
Take a look at the photo above: Netanyahu is sitting on a red sofa, with a crown on his head. At the top is written: Bibi, we are not in the 17th century. WE ARE THE COUNTRY.
Across Netanyahu’s chest is written: Date Expired. At the bottom: The insanity of King Bibi.
This sign expresses the deep despair felt by many. A lot of Israelis feel that whether or not Netanyahu is good for the country, he's been PM for way too long and is out of touch with the people. On the other hand, many feel that Israel has no other experienced leader like him, who has the politically shrewdness and fortitude to uphold Israel’s interests against international disapproval. Over the years, Netanyahu has repeatedly shown his political shrewdness in successfully extinguishing the strength of his opponents. Some of his supporters idolize him to the extent that they consider him a messiah. Many Israelis cannot imagine an Israel without him.
The demonstrators on Balfour Street, in my opinion, are not motivated to demonstrate because of a political agenda - it's not a matter of left, center or right wing. They feel that their wings were taken from them! The demonstrators are not demonstrating against the right wing government, they are demonstrating against the Royal Family. They despise not only Netanyahu, but also his wife Sarah and Yair, his outspoken son, who have the reputation of enjoying a luxurious lifestyle at the tax payers’ expense.
2nd stop: Traffic intersections & bridges across the country
Demonstrators at these locations are part of the so-called Black Flag movement, which is growing in popularity with people of all ages throughout major centers of the country.
The yellow and white sign says: Menutakim Nimastem! Two words that I find difficulty in translating, but I'll try my best: "Disconnected, we're fed up with you!"
The Black Flag movement is a movement of people, again, with no political agenda except for saving Israel's democracy. They believe they represent the majority in the country and view themselves as the lifeguards of a drowning democracy. "Corruption and anti-democratic laws are more dangerous than Iran," they claim. The black flag symbolizes the “death of Israel’s democracy” and the movement is the largest movement of demonstrators, since the summer of 2011 when millions (yes, millions) of Israelis protested in tents across the country (demanding the construction of affordable housing to resolve the housing crisis).
Will they be able to get millions out on the streets again?
And then came the Corona virus for a visit.
Israel initially dealt well with the Corona virus: in a quick and militant move, Israel isolated itself and was able to plank the curve pretty fast. But then came the economic crisis, threatening Bibi’s popularity. The government hurried to reduce restrictions and open businesses without a sound public health policy to minimize the spread of the virus. Israel’s largest government ever (36 ministers) is viewed as being disconnected, and appears unresponsive to the recommendations of health experts. So now the Black Flags are demonstrating against the king, and also against his disconnected ministers. They have been joined by many newly unemployed Israelis, who are furious with the way the government is dealing with the pandemic from an economic point of view.
3rd stop: The last supper at Rabin Square
On a normal tour in normal days (as normal as it can get in Israel), we would stop for a visit at Rabin Square, and I would share with you the story behind the tragic assassination of Rabin in 1995. On this Snippet tour, I want to point out a brilliant piece of art - The Last Supper, by Itai Zalait, displayed these days in the square. This life-size scene reflects the feelings that many of us have towards Netanyahu. He is sitting at a table that is overflowing with luxuries – champagne, cigars, platters of fruits and cakes. However, he sits alone, the absence of his disciples hinted at by the empty chairs surrounding him. Right in front of him, is a big cake in the shape of the flag of Israel. Netanyahu is digging into it with his hands. What message can the viewer take from the artist? Could it be that we have a messiah-like prime minister who is indulging in luxuries whilst so many are struggling financially? Itai suggests that this is The Last Supper of Israeli democracy.
Stay tuned: these demonstrations might slowly die off or they might ignite a massive wave of millions. It is not easy to get a lot of Israelis out onto the streets. We are too busy with our kids, eating hummus, and playing Matkot on the beach.