Protest marches set out for Tel Aviv, demand Olmert, Peretz quit
Marchers set out from across the country, will unite Thursday for mass rally in Rabin Square.
Student groups from across Israel joined residents of the western Negev town of Sderot and army reservists for a protest march Tuesday, calling on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to resign.
They set out from gathering points across the country, and plan to reach Tel Aviv in time to join a national protest scheduled to take place in Rabin Square on Thursday.
The demand is based on Peretz and Olmert's failures during the Second Lebanon War, as outlined in the Winograd Committee's partial report released Monday.
On Monday, Meretz activists called for Olmert's resignation by demonstrating in front of his Jerusalem home. More protests were planned for Tuesday afternoon in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, which was repeatedly battered by Katyusha rockets during the 34-day war last year.
Protest organizers, including the chair of the Tafnit movement Uzi Dayan, leaders of the reservists' protest movement and bereaved families held a press conference Tuesday, launching a campaign they call "Failures go home!"
"The Winograd report has made its point, loud and clear," said Dayan at the conference. "Olmert and Peretz said they would not resign before they even read the report. The ball is now in the court of the Israeli public.
"We will revive Israeli democracy in the heart of Tel Aviv and bring it back to the people," he said. "We demand that Olmert and Peretz resign, and if they don't, the public will show them the way out on Thursday."
Yakir Aviv, chairman of the Hebrew University Students' Union, added that Thursday's demonstration is one of the most important in Israel's history. "The government has sunk to depths so low that I as a young Israeli am not prepared to accept," he said. "Other young Israelis must come Rabin Square. Now is the time to show the government our dissatisfaction."
In the coming days, the leaders of the protest movement will decide whether Thursday's rally will remain non-partisan or if senior politicians will be invited to speak.
"We have been approached by members of the opposition and the coalition, and will decide soon," said Aviv. "Opinions differ, but we are united by the desire to tell Olmert and Peretz 'You failed. Go home,'" he said.
Sources at the protest headquarters said Monday that the harsh report is likely to increase the turnout at the demonstration. Many organizations are expected to participate, including Tafnit, Family Forum for bereaved families, the reservists' protest movement, student organizations, quality government advocacy groups, the Yesha Council of settlements and representatives of frontier communities in northern and southern Israel.
This will be a "coalition of organizations united behind the opinion that the prime minister and the defense minister should resign, regardless of their political position. We don't care if they are orange, blue or green," organizers said, alluding to the "orange" anti-disengagement camp and the "blue" disengagement supporters.
Nonetheless, the main deliberation among protest leaders now regards the participation of politicians. So far, opposition Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu has confirmed his attendance, which led the left-wing Meretz party to cancel its participation. Organizers say they will decide in the coming days, and that if politicians do participate, there will be a balance of left and right. Possible speakers include Labor party leadership contenders Ami Ayalon and Ehud Barak.
"We believe that if politicians see this gaining momentum, they will want to participate," organizers said, adding that if the rally is not political, public figures, artists and intellectuals will give central speeches.
"Coming to Rabin Square on Thursday is a national draft order," said Dayan. "The Winograd Committee has said its piece; now the public must say its. We, members of a public coalition, will not allow the conclusions to dissolve. The prime minister and defense minister who failed in making fateful decisions, in using the military and in abandoning the home front, must resign immediately."