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Curbing Protests, Israel Takes Another Step Toward Civil War

Netanyahu's supporters called demonstrators monsters, and the Knesset gave them a seal of approval. It is a shocking failure of the government, at the lowest point of Israel's democracy

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Haaretz cartoon showing limited protests (right) vs. packed prayers
Haaretz cartoonCredit: Amos Biderman
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

UPDATE: Israel extends lockdown until October 14, approves protest restrictions

Until recently, right-wing activists and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates could be heard saying the demonstrations outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem actually benefited Netanyahu, because they revealed “the protesters’ true faces” and united his supporters behind him. Yair Netanyahu even said they amuse his father, declaring, “I show my father these aliens and it makes him laugh.”

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But the prime minister and his family are obviously no longer amused. Their lack of mirth is the only possible explanation for an amendment passed early Wednesday morning to the law granting the government special powers to deal with the coronavirus. Its entire purpose is to thwart demonstrations against the prime minister, as Israeli democracy possibly faces its greatest ever challenge.

Many people mocked a video posted this week by someone called Alin Shahar. In it, a young woman rants and rails at the protesters and calls them “monsters.” But there’s nothing funny about this video. It’s not ludicrous to think that Shahar was using it to express, with an impressive ring of authenticity, what Netanyahu, his family and his fans are feeling. All of them oscillate between the poles of terrible fear and intense hatred, while magnifying protesters who wear the costumes of inhuman monsters to demonic proportions.

The ban on gatherings is a logical move to suppress the virus. But there’s nothing logical about this government’s moves. On the one hand, it objects even to protest convoys of private cars, which don’t pose any risk of infection. On the other, it allows mass disregard of the virus restrictions by various Hasidic sects.

A demonstration calling for Israel's prime minister's resignation in Jerusalem, September 26, 2020. It looks like Netanyahu and his family are no longer amused.
A demonstration calling for Israel's prime minister's resignation in Jerusalem, September 26, 2020. It looks like Netanyahu and his family are no longer amused.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

This outrageous lawlessness, which is widespread in certain segments of the heterogeneous ultra-Orthodox community, first and foremost sacrifices some of the community’s own members, who try to obey the rules but find themselves caught, against their will, in a trap of illness. Later, the same will be true for the health system and the patients who need it. Anyone who isn’t brain-dead understands that if freedom of movement, freedom of religion and other rights held sacred by a democratic country must be urgently infringed upon, then it should be there first, in the eye of the storm.

The very fact that we have reached the point of such draconian legislation – regardless of whom it targets – attests to the government’s shocking failure. Countries that are somehow managing to live with the virus are notable for the level of trust between the government and the public.

In those countries, the government sets policies whose goal is to protect its citizens and the health system, while upholding their rights insofar as possible and taking their needs into account. And its citizens repay it through strict self-discipline and personal sacrifice. Only thus, by working together, is it possible to cope with a terrible storm like the coronavirus and minimize its damage.

A demonstration against Netanyahu in front of the national police headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 29, 2020.
A demonstration against Netanyahu in front of the national police headquarters in Tel Aviv, September 29, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

And what’s happening in Israel? Amid a terrible crisis affecting things such as physical and mental health, the economy and community, amid an unending political whirlwind whose instigator is trying by any means possible to cancel his criminal trial, Israel is moving by leaps and bounds toward civil war.

On one side of the divide is Alin Shahar, and on the other stand Netanyahu’s opponents. The legislation that the Knesset approved on Wednesday merely pours more fuel on this fire.

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