More than 100,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Thursday, in the first national protest calling on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to resign over the damning Winograd report on the Second Lebanon War.
While police would only say the number of protestors was over 100,000, the rally's organizers said closer to 200,000 were in attendance. A banner reading "Failures, Go Home!" hung behind a podium set up at one end of the square in front of Tel Aviv city hall.
"Ehud Olmert, you said you work for us. Olmert, you are fired!" said the evening's keynote speaker, author Meir Shalev. "Amir Peretz - you said [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah will never forget your name. Neither will we."
"Olmert and Peretz, we have received authorization that both of you came to power in the wrong positions," he continued. "You can't handle the position, you failed, go home."
Despite the fact that the rally organizers had made great efforts to include protestors from a wide political spectrum, Shalev overstepped the bounds of the rally's consensus, and was booed by many of the demonstrators.
"Not only do you not know how to make war, but also peace," he said. "The war you embarked on was not the first stupidity, but thanks to it, we have understood what has happened after 40 years of occupation. This is the result, go home, goodbye and good riddance."
Rally organizer Uzi Dayan, who is chairman of the Tafnit movement and a retired senior general, also addressed the crowd, saying: "Democracy has emerged victorious."
"The Winograd Committee that the prime minister established has courageously stood up to him and said clearly - Mr. Olmert, you failed," said Dayan.
"The prime minister is refusing to accept personal responsibility and resign, and is therefore undermining the foundations of democracy," Dayan continued. "Olmert, don't stall for time, don't delay the end until the summer, do the right thing and go home."
"I came to protest against the government for not doing anything," said Tal Geva, a student at Sderot's Sapir College and a resident of the borderline community of Ein Habesor. "For not implementing the Winograd conclusions, for not taking care of Sderot and other Gaza-area residents properly, for not providing us with reinforced buildings, and for sending us to reserve duty and then not taking care of us."
"We're here to tell Olmert ... to go," protestor Yigal Armoni said at the demonstration. "He's on the edge of a cliff. All he needs is a small push, but tonight we'll give him a big one."
Olmert adviser Tal Zilberstein shrugged off the rally, saying it would not prompt the prime minister to rethink his decision not to resign.
Some political demonstrations in the past have attracted hundreds of thousands of protesters, and the size of this one was seen as a critical sign of the extent of public anger.
The organizers of the mass demonstration decided Wednesday that politicians would not speak at the rally, but bereaved families, artists, and intelligentsia would speak instead.
The rally's organizers said their decision to hold the protest without politicians was made because they wanted to attract as many people as possible. However, they called on all politicians interested to come and protest, even if they do not speak.
"This is an exceptional opportunity to bring the Israeli democracy back to its natural place, and this is in the city's square," Dayan said Wednesday.
"Citizens from all over the political spectrum and the country will come to Rabin Square. This is the time when the public will sound its voice loud and clear and send the failures home."
The office of Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu said Netanyahu was less likely to attend the rally now that it is clear that he will not be among the speakers at the event.
The event is hosted by Osnat Vishinsky, bereaved mother of Lior, who died in an armored vehicle explosion on the Philadelphi route in 2004.
Artists such as Aviv Gefen, Subliminal, Gilad Segev, Shay Gabso, and Nimrod Lev were expected to perform songs related to the Second Lebanon War.
Yakir Aviv, chairman of the Hebrew University Students' Union, Roni Tzigenbaum, representing the IDF reserves, and Ariela Goldman, mother of Noam Goldman who was killed in the Second Lebanon War, were all expected to speak. The writer Meir Shalev and the poet Chaim Guri will also speak at the protest.
Representatives from movements across the political spectrum attended the rally, including the representatives of both the Yesha Settlement Council and the Meretz party.
Though politicians were intentionally not invited to speak at the rally, several politicians attended the event. Labor MKs Ami Ayalon, Ophir Pines-Paz and Danny Yatom, three of the candidates for leadership of the party, were present. Also from Labor, MK Avishai Braverman attended the rally.
However, conspicuously missing from the event was former prime minister Ehud Barak, who will also vie for leadership of the Labor party during the upcoming primaries. Barak is the last remaining candidate that has not yet expressed any views regarding the Winograd report.
MKs from Likud, the National Religious Party, the National Union party and Meretz also attended the demonstration.
Tel Aviv University students also joined the crowd at the really, and several small groups marched from Haifa, Sderot and Jerusalem to participate in the rally.
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