Tale of Two Benjamins: As Netanyahu Stands Trial, Supporters Outside See a Different Story

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, April 2021.
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, April 2021.Credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

“There will come a day, a thousand years from now, when archaeologists and historians will review our documents and think there were two Benjamin Netanyahus here,” said Likud lawmaker Ariel Kelner at a rally in support of the prime minister on Monday morning outside the Jerusalem District Court. He may not be right, but it’s clear that this day is indeed liable to confuse historians.

One Netanyahu sat in court, charged with serious crimes. On the signs of the demonstrators outside the court, one saw the image of the second Netanyahu – an admired prime minister being persecuted in a sick and obsessive fashion by a gang of criminals headed by uber-criminal chief prosecutor Liat Ben Ari.

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The speakers on the podium in the midst of the demonstration competed with one another to make poisonous comments about Ben-Ari and the prosecution. The winner seemed to be future Likud lawmaker Galit Distal Atbarian. “Liat Ben-Ari, you pursued, lied, tortured, concealed, ignored, made things up and then ran off to a safari, so as not to hear the prime minister’s defense claims,” she said. “There’s something else you didn’t take into account. This man, Netanyahu, is not human. He’s made of steel,” she added.

A lot of people, who are not the prime minister, were certainly pleased with the judges’ decision to release Netanyahu from the need to be present during his trial hearings – including those who frequent the court building, security guards, policemen, prosecutors, residents of the area and storeowners on Salah e-Din Street.

When Netanyahu comes to court, it seriously disrupts the routine in the court compound and in the entire area. On Monday morning, businesses were closed, and white screens were spread along the gates of the court. On the streets leading to the courthouse, policemen sorted out the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu demonstrators. There were between 200-300 people on each side.

Police separated the two groups with barriers, keeping them several hundred meters apart. On one side they sang with hope about the day Netanyahu would be taken to prison in a paddy wagon, while the other side sang him songs of praise.

“Thanks for our honor in the world/for peace with our neighbors/for the strength/for the wisdom/for the blooming of the Negev/and for Miri Regev/and for the princess Galit Distal/for the growth/for the left that’s sinking/for standing in the breach/before all those who eat vermin/and thanks for the hair that he’s had the whole time,” sang screenwriter Meni Assayag.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Jerusalem, April 2021.Credit: AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

“We want to be traveling on the Netanyahu interchange, Netanyahu road, to go to Netanyahu hospital, but they want to destroy his legacy and put him in jail. We won’t let them,” he said.

Besides attacking Ben-Ari and her colleagues, the demonstrators also mentioned President Reuven Rivlin, who at the time was starting to hear the parties’ recommendations for prime minister. “The president says he’ll decide. That’s all we need, for him to be a partner in this plot,” said lawmaker Nissim Vaturi. “Bennett and Smotrich – you are traitors to the camp. What you are doing today is stealing votes and deceiving the voters,” he added, referring to Yamina head Naftali Bennett and Religious Zionist leader Bezalel Smotrich.

The demonstrators, who came from all over the country, are convinced that this is a complex plot that stretches from the prosecution at Salah e-Din Street to the President’s Residence in Rehavia. “As with Dreyfuss, it’s not the man. It’s what he represents. If he had carried out a second disengagement this wouldn’t have happened,” one of the demonstrators told Channel 20.

“This day is a shame for the State of Israel. They are framing a good prime minister only because he doesn’t want to divide the country,” said Ilana Haniya from Ashkelon. Asked why former prime minister Ehud Olmert had been put on trial even though he had agreed to divide the country, she had an answer ready: “Olmert really was corrupt.”

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