Anything that happens on June 6 can only be dwarfed by the invasion of Normandy, which began on this date in 1944 and was humanity’s greatest accomplishment in the 20th century. On that date in 2020 (not humanity’s finest hour), a mass of protesters took over Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. What were they protesting? Good question. There’s no lack of issues.
This time the demonstration was against annexation. A worthy goal, all in all. The responsiveness was surprising. The despair on the left is so deep that it can’t be taken for granted that a move with the capacity to upend the entire Middle East will bring people into the streets. Despair over what? Over everything. Among the signs representing the zeitgeist: “Palestinian Lives Matter,” photos of the slain, autistic Eyad Hallaq, and even “Annexation will spark a war.” And, of course, the giant banner reading “Crime Minister” and featuring Benjamin Netanyahu’s visage without which any protest is incomplete. That banner will bury us all, including Bibi himself. One day, years from now, it will be flown in the national leaders’ section of Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl cemetery.
The crowd was composed largely of the classic old left, with a smattering of young people, but with one major difference: It was the most mixed Arab-Jewish protest that’s been seen here in a long time. In addition, participants weren’t afraid to ratchet up the tone of the slogans. One knot of people, in a kind of performance piece, held up signs: “Murderers in uniform,” “Liberate the Gaza ghetto” and “Nakba, since 1948.”
A large group from the Hadash party’s youth movement gathered in the middle of Ibn Gvirol Street, waving the Palestinian flag and singing “The Internationale” in Arabic. They all wore red scarves and gorgeous purple anti-coronavirus masks with a hammer-and-sickle design.
When the Israeli-Palestinian singer Amal Murkus – who led the demonstration, together with Noam Shuster-Eliassi (a comedian and former COVID-19 patient) – took the stage and began singing “We shall overcome” in English and Arabic, all the aging hippies joined in. It was a beautiful moment that stood out in the sea of historic leftist slogans.
The whole time, four demonstrators stood on Sderot Chen Boulevard, one of the streets leading to the square, held back by police barricades and surrounded by Border Police officers, shouting slogans in favor of annexation and against the “extremists” in the square. Their shirts bore the logos of Likud, Im Tirtzu and Likud’s Lavi university organization. They insisted, through their shouts, that they were the sane, moderate majority, in contrast to the masses demonstrating in the square. I turned to the most charismatic of the bunch, a young guy with an accusatory expression who seems destined for a leadership position in the right.
Why are you here today?
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“Shalom. First of all, my name is Almog Baku. Baku is spelled [in Hebrew] with a ‘kuf’ and a ‘vav.’ Please spell it correctly. We are here against the organizing of extremists from every direction. We don’t believe in supporting extremism that dishonors the State of Israel. There are people on the left and on the right who are sane and they know how to read and they don’t argue that states and powers like the United States and Britain do bizarre things. But on the other side there are dangerous and inciting organizations such as the Communist movement, that incite people against Trump’s deal of the century.”
Why does objecting to a diplomatic plan dishonor the State of Israel?
“The dishonor is in waving PLO flags in Rabin Square. Dishonor for the State of Israel. It’s dishonor to laugh at the citizens of the State of Israel.”
What was said here today that constituted dishonor?
“Let’s start with the messages of the organizers. If the Israel Police come and tell the organizers that it’s very dangerous what they’re doing here, how can MK [Tamar] Zandberg say that she couldn’t care less about the police and hold the protest anyway?”
Dangerous in what way?
But you’re not against this demonstration for health reasons.
“I demonstrate against extremism of all types. What I see is the waving of PLO flags in central Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew [Jewish] city.”
The Palestinian flag has been waved in Israel before, including at the prime minister’s residence.
“There’s waving flags in a respectful manner, while making peace, and there’s waving for the purpose of incitement and subversion.”
So it’s a matter of how it’s waved?
“It’s a matter of the manner and the messages that are said.”
There aren’t many of you here.
A guy named Shai Rosengarten entered the picture: “I can tell you one sentence that will be a super sentence for the article: Even Sodom and Gomorrah needed one or two righteous men. What’s happening here is Sodom and Gomorrah and we’re the righteous men.”
There are tons of people in Israel who support annexation.
“True, but unfortunately because they’re the majority it makes them silent and apathetic.”
Do the people at this demonstration have the right to voice their opinion?
“They have a democratic right to express their opinions, and so do we.”
So it’s not illegitimate?
“I’m saying that everyone has a right to demonstrate as long as they don't call for violence and the destruction of the state.”
Did that happen here?
“I didn’t personally hear such things.”
How does it feel to be held in a cage?
“I think it’s an insult to the State of Israel that those who wave Israeli flags are standing behind bars and the other side that waves black flags and red flags is on the other side and free.”
To whom are your complaints directed? To the Israel Police?
“Yes, to the Israel Police.”
They’re here to protect you.
A young woman from among the counter-protesters, whose name I unfortunately did not hear, intervened with her own message: “It’s delusional to argue that we should be penned in because we want to wave Israeli flags. Why is it dangerous to wave Israeli flags in Tel Aviv?”