What Do Israelis Want? Pot! When Do They Want It? Now!

Rally for legalization of marijuana draws together left, right, religious and secular.

Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad
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Roy (Chicky) Arad
Roy Arad

An impromptu karaoke-style performance by far-right politician Moshe Feiglin was a big hit among the estimated 1,000 Israelis, including a handful of Bratslav Hasidim, who attended a rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night to support the legalization of marijuana.

As the crowd chanted phrases like “The people demand legal marijuana,” the speakers at the rally sought to frame pot smoking as part of Israel’s national culture, as a unifying factor among the country’s disparate groups and even as a security issue.

The crowd was quite optimistic, perhaps because the participants were an agreeable sort or because the M.C. was a stand-up comic named Michael Hanegbi, instead of those severe-faced sorts who can normally be found at rallies. Hanegbi focused on giving pot use a mainstream image, saying people who smoke joints include “bankers, lawyers, Defense Ministry officials.”

Sofia Trotosh Argaman, who was introduced as “a member of the movement for the plant’s release” said she was at the rally “for our children.”

“I don’t want my children to smoke camel dung when they grow up, I don’t want my children to give an agora toward funding terror,” she said, referring to drug sales used to fund terror groups.

The refrain was echoed by reggae singer Adam Ben-Lavi, known as Fishi Hagadol. “Bibi, we’ve had enough of paying for Hamas,” he declared.

A speaker named Tomer spoke about disabled veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and use marijuana to help them cope. “And what about the combat soldiers?” he said. “Cannabis helps them make it to reserve duty.”

Medical marijuana, which is hard for patients to receive permission to access, was central to the rally. The health minister, Yael German, was as hated a figure in Rabin Square last night as former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is at a Likud convention. One heckler kept referring to her as “the minister of ignorance” (burut), which in Hebrew sounds sort of like “health” (bri’ut). There were a few rows in the front with chairs reserved for the sick, and rally organizers asked healthy people not to sit there. Most of the seats remained empty.

But high-quality marijuana, which one sign at the rally referred to as “the wonder drug,” should not be just for the sick, said one speaker, adding: “We’re all post-traumatic here.”

MK Tamar Zandberg of Meretz tied in the legalization of marijuana with the other two rallies that took place Saturday: one for gay rights and one against the new detention center for illegal migrants. But the presence of hardline MK Moshe Feiglin of Likud, who favors the use of medical marijuana, demonstrated that its supporters and opponents can’t necessarily be divided neatly along right-left lines. Feiglin stood onstage and sang an impromptu version of “Ani Ve’ata” (the chorus: “You and I will change the world”) by Israeli music legend Arik Einstein, who died late last month.

As members of the crowd recorded the moment with their cell phones, I heard comments like “What a guy” and “Feiglin was right.” The applause verged on hysteria, leaving me hoping that it didn’t give anyone post-traumatic stress disorder requiring them to be treated with medical marijuana.

While the vast majority of the crowd appeared to be secular, there were some Israelis in religious attire as well, most prominently a few Bratslav Hasidim, the sect whose white-clad members can be seen dancing in the streets and the one to which Fishi Hagadol, who grew up secular, now belongs.

“Husbands need to be relaxed and happy, and it brings peace to the home,” said a Bratslav Hasid named Doron, who looked to be around 60. Fishi also spoke about the unifying properties of pot. “Cannabis connects all the people of Israel,” he said. “Rightists, leftists, here everybody smokes.”

MK Moshe Feiglin speaking in favor of medical marijuana at the pro-pot rally in Tel Aviv Saturday night.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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