The southern lawn of the Wohl Rose Garden, across from the Knesset, has hosted innumerable demonstrations and protest events. But the event staged Sunday, with the intoxicating scent of the roses as the backdrop, was the first of its kind: A huge screen was erected, flanked by a sound system, that for hours screened the complex High Court of Justice hearing that was taking place in the Supreme Court building only a few dozen meters behind the audience. The court was hearing the petitions that had been filed against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the coalition agreement with Kahol Lavan.
The audience spread out on the grass was comprised of longtime demonstrators against Netanyahu: A coalition of overlapping organizations like the "Black Flag’’ protests, the Hozeh Hadash (“New Contract") organization, demonstrators from Petah Tikva who regularly rallied outside of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's home, the Habima protests that took place in Tel Aviv last year, as well unaffiliated protesters. Most were doubtful of the court’s chances to block Netanyahu from a fifth term as premier.
They were gathered in small groups under the trees, wearing masks that read “crime minister,” watching the hearing with increasing frustration.
“I’m scared to death,” said Oron Simon, one of the organizers of the event. “Our democracy and way of life is hanging by a thread. We are this close from being thrown into utter chaos because of a prime minister clinging to his position. This legal squabbling doesn’t do my stomach any good. It should have been a quick decision, a moral decision.”
“No one is addressing the moral issue, they are drowning it in a flood of legal wrangling. It would be better if Netanyahu would just come to the court and say he wants to be a dictator and to stop bothering him,” added Yishay Hadas, a leader of the Petah Tikva protests, soon after Supreme Court President Esther Hayut reprimanded the petitioners’ lawyer for saying that disallowing the petition would mean “the fort would fall."
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Few of the demonstrators held out much hope for the court’s course of action and were talking about resuming the street protests, but Hadas believes that it will be harder after the government is formed. “There will be fewer demonstrations out of despair, and then they will try to buy us. This nation is already corrupt.”
During the event three inspectors from the Jerusalem municipality demanded that signs that had been hung on the Knesset fence be removed and that tents be taken down. The confrontation escalated rapidly, with the inspectors absorbing a barrage of insults in the name of the entire government establishment. “This is a prime minister who has his own police force,” said one demonstrator. “Leave them, they are the Stasi [East German security service],” said another. One inspector responded to the taunts by saying, “You’re lucky that I’m in uniform and that I respect my uniform, so I’m not answering you.” The tents were then removed and the inspectors left.
“I think of the worst. This is not just corruption, it’s a mafia,” said Shmulik Grenstein. “There’s no one who can stop this family, they are capable of anything. And still I have a pinch of optimism, it’s not possible that this will get through. In any case, I will continue to come to every demonstration.”
Vered Bisset is also trying to remain optimistic. “We don’t want to get to the situation of Turkey and Hungary. We will fight to the end to maximize the truth, we cannot give up. I still believe the High Court will examine things in depth, I just hope they aren’t subject to threats by Netanyahu or his envoys.”