Analysis

In pro-Netanyahu Rally, the Ruling Party Took on the State in the Guise of a Popular Movement

Burning hatred for state symbols could be felt in every corner. Now come the election campaigns and attacks on judges

Supporters at the Tel Aviv rally for Benjamin Netanyahu, November 26, 2019.
Jack Guez / AFP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expecting a show of strength that would launch his election campaign for Likud chairman and then, if he wins, for the Knesset. He not only expected it, he invested in it. For the past two days, his office and the party did nothing but urge the masses to come to the relatively small Tel Aviv Museum plaza, which was chosen because it was easy to fill.

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He and his people burned the phone lines in their efforts to persuade right-wing ministers, legislators, mayors, public figures, artists and intellectuals to show up. Traffic on Likud WhatsApp groups was feverish. Transportation was arranged from all parts of the country, generously at Likud’s expense.

This 100-percent effort produced meager results. Politicians kept their distance. Likud cabinet members were smart enough to stay away but gave cowardly excuses of the “previous engagement” and “ministerial duties” variety. Apparently even they felt some discomfort in taking part in a protest by the ruling party against the state, its law enforcement agencies and its gatekeepers.

A successful rally is measured not only in the number of participants but in the quality of the speeches. And the representation on the dais was indeed a motley crew: Culture Minister Miri Regev, MK Miki Zohar and then a caricature of a journalist, a caricature of a female intellectual and a caricature of a legal figure. Really? An unpleasant show. The prime minister – any prime minister – deserves a more dignified showing.

Zohar, a known resister of self-awareness, said the event would be “remembered in the history of the State of Israel.” Regev, who Tuesday morning said she couldn’t attend and was apparently told in no uncertain terms that her absence wouldn’t be appreciated, surprised everyone and appeared. She said she had come to defend the law. Never was this word heard so many times at an event designed to crush that very concept, show contempt for its symbols and knock down its representatives.

“Lovers of justice and the law” – in Regev’s words – didn’t stream in huge numbers to the plaza. There were between 4,000 and 5,000 people there. Those numbers merely recalled the numbers by which the police’s cases against Netanyahu are known. A huge sign on the dais proclaimed: “Protect the state, stop the coup.” At the foot of the dais were more signs: “Investigate Shai Nitzan,” the state prosecutor, “Lock up Liat Ben Ari,” the lead prosecutor in the Netanyahu cases, “False prophets,” “Attorney general without boundaries,” “Police without boundaries.”

Every time the name of the attorney general or the state prosecutor was mentioned, the audience booed loudly. Burning hatred for the symbols of the state could be felt in every corner. If Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Nitzan or Ben Ari had arrived, they wouldn’t have left in peace.  To borrow from the name of a cult film, it was an ugly night at the museum.

Some people would say it was a dangerous night. In fact, Zohar was right: Maybe it will go down in history as the first time an Israeli prime minister organized a demonstration against the state institutions that he himself heads. Any criminal or member of the underworld would have felt right at home.

As fate would have it, above the dais, on the wall of the museum, was a sign advertising a film being shown there, “Solar Guerrilla,” something about the danger of climate change. Nothing could better represent the bunch gathered on the dais and in the plaza below: guerrillas, government terror in the guise of a popular rally aimed at the investigators and the prosecutors. And in the future, obviously, against the judges.