Right-wing rallies against PM's policies
Some 120,000 people thronged to Tel Aviv's Rabin Square last night for the largest demonstration ever organized by the right against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies. The demonstration, titled "Israel will not cave in" and organized by the Yesha Council, was aimed at Sharon's recently unveiled disengagement plan.
Some 120,000 people thronged to Tel Aviv's Rabin Square last night for the largest demonstration ever organized by the right against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies.
The demonstration, titled "Israel will not cave in" and organized by the Yesha Council of settlements, was aimed at Sharon's recently unveiled disengagement plan. Four ministers and 15 coalition MKs were among the featured speakers.
For many of those present, a demonstration against Sharon - himself a rightist and a leading backer of the settlement movement - involved an element of cognitive dissonance, as was evident from the two points at which his name sparked a loud outburst from the crowd. The first was when he was mentioned by Housing Minister Effi Eitam (National Religious Party), and the crowd erupted into boos. The second came with the screening of a film clip from 2000 that showed Sharon praising the settlers and declaring of the Barak government: "It's not the people who are tired, it's the leadership." That time, the crowd erupted into cheers.
"We stood by you at the front during the recent difficult war," Eitam thundered during his speech. "But we will not stand by you in uprooting settlements; we will not stand by you in expelling Jews, children, from their houses. We will not be your partners in defeat."
Tourism Minister Binyamin Elon (National Union) added: "We will not allow your old age to embarrass your youth... Don't think that the people are tired; don't think that the people want to disengage. This nation does not want to disengage - not from its Torah, not from its history, and not from its land."
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) was also in the crowd, but not on the dais: He preferred to attend as an "ordinary citizen," because of his parliamentary post. "I love Arik [Sharon], but I love the Land of Israel more," he told reporters. "I came to demonstrate for the Land of Israel - not against anyone."
Both the Yesha Council and the speakers did their best to portray both Sharon and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as virtually the only Likud members who had strayed from the path, and to urge them to return.
Minister without Portfolio Uzi Landau (Likud), referring to Sharon's past as "the father of the settlements," said that a demonstration against uprooting settlements at which Sharon was not present was "a surrealistic drama" and termed the idea of unilateral disengagement "a momentary weakness."
Welfare Minister Zevulun Orlev (NRP) recalled the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and declared: "We will not lend a hand to dividing the nation, despite the dispute. No one should lift a hand against a policeman or soldier under any circumstance."
The ministers and MKs who attended also signed a "declaration of loyalty to the Land of Israel" in which they pledged to work against the evacuation of settlements and the establishment of a Palestinian state.
One person conspicuous by his absence was National Union chairman and Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose relations with the Yesha Council are strained due to the latter's demand that his party leave the government should it even evacuate illegal outposts.
The last demonstration organized by the Yesha Council, which was against the Barak government, featured both Sharon and Olmert as speakers.