Israeli expats held Saturday demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 18 cities around the world, in what organizers said was the largest protest event ever staged by Israelis living abroad against their government.
Demonstrations in various cities across Europe and North America took place simultaneously with the weekly gathering of thousands of protesters outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem's Balfour Street.
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In recent months, thousands of people have been taking to the streets every Saturday evening in hundreds of locations across Israel, calling on Netanyahu to resign amid his corruption charges and what they say is his government's mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. The largest anti-Netanyahu rallies take place outside the prime minister's official residence, and on some occasions have drawn as many as 20,000 demonstrators.
In early August dozens of Israeli expats began holding rallies in San Francisco, New York and Berlin in solidarity with the wave of anti-Netanyahu protests that have swept Israel over the summer, the largest the country has seen in the past decade.
Over the past Month, numerous Israeli expat communities have joined the protest wave, holding demonstrations from everywhere between Sydney, Australia, to Washington, D.C., where dozens of Israelis gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in an unprecedented move.
So far, each one of the demonstrations were staged independently at a different time, but this time organizers joined forces, taking to the streets at the same time to convey their message.
Some cities, like Chicago and Atlanta, saw their first protests this weekend, while in others, like Amsterdam and Toronto, the organizers were hoping to expand the number of participants compared to previous weekends.
“There is a lot of excitement about the fact that we’re all doing this together at the same time,” said Offir Gutelzon, who helped organized the first San Francisco protest, and is coordinating this weekend's protest.
“After a month of protests in different cities [across the world], we decided that Netanyahu needs to know that Israelis all over the world want him to resign and go focus on his legal troubles, instead of dragging the country into chaos.”
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In a joint statement, the organizers said that “The foundations of Israeli democracy are being challenged by a prime minister indicted for bribery. We are confident in the ability of the Israeli people to recover from many years of divisiveness, corruption, and fearmongering by Netanyahu, and reinstate the values on which the country was established – social justice and democracy. We join their call for his resignation.”
Ronit Shachar, who helped organize the protests in Miami, told Haaretz that anti-government demonstrators in the city were harassed by other Israelis living there who are supporters of Netanyahu.
Most incidents happened on social media, but some of Netanyahu’s supporters arrived at the protest and tried to disrupt it. Shachar said this will not deter the Miami group from gathering with signs both in Hebrew and English calling on Netanyahu to resign.
Etay Beck, the CEO of a high-tech company who participated in the first protest in San Francisco, told Haaretz that “Many of the people who came out to demonstrate live a divided life between Israel and America.
"People here flew twice and some even three times to Israel to participate in the country's three election cycles last year.” Beck added that his company employs people in both the U.S. and Israel, and that for many of the protesters, Israel's economic fallout caused by the coronavirus crisis isn’t "someone else’s problem."
Moran Stern, an Israeli Ph.D. student living in Washington, joined the demonstration in front of the Israeli Embassy two weeks ago. He told Haaretz that “I attended the demonstration first and foremost as an act of solidarity with those who are protesting in Israel. This is the most important protest wave since Israel was founded.
"It’s about Israel's very essence, and people need to decide which side they’re on.” Stern flew to Israel three times in 2019 and early 2020 to vote in the country's three elections in less than two years. “Now we continue fighting for our country from here,” he said.