A report on the post-indictment, pro-Netanyahu rally in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night can start from the bottom line. If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is really planning to set the country ablaze in his battle for survival against the state prosecutor’s “coup,” he doesn’t have the troops to do so.
The frantic efforts his office has been undertaking since Friday to muster the masses produced several thousand people from across the whole country. One almost felt offended on Netanyahu’s behalf. The master communicator, elder statesman and longest-serving leader of Israel should be able to summon more than this disorganized motley group. Even his political rivals would say he deserved better.
The most impressive achievement of the rally, which didn’t even have a clear message or slogan, was its cross-section of Israeli society. There were secular Tel Avivians; religious bourgeoisie from the suburbs; veteran Likudniks bused in from what used to be called “development towns”; ultra-Orthodox; and ultra-nationalist settlers.
Despite Likud having dedicated the party’s resources to buses, security and a sound system, this wasn’t a Likud rally. There was little of the warm, “extended family gathering”-type atmosphere you encounter at Likud events. There were none of the usual songs. Every time someone tried to get a chant going, it died out within seconds.
From a random sampling, only about half of those at the rally voted for Netanyahu’s party in September. There were plenty of Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yamina and Otzma Yehudit voters as well. But it didn’t matter. They were united by a joint feeling of insult — or as the mistress of the ceremony, writer Galit Distal Atbarian, encapsulated it: “The State of Israel against Benjamin Netanyahu. Never has there been a more abominable, more filthy, more chilling sentence. How ungrateful!”
And yet while superlatives were poured on Netanyahu’s head and inflated calculations of how many voted for him were bandied about, the rally really wasn’t about him. Neither was it about the “left-wing mafia” in the Justice Ministry, despite the long litany of sins of the prosecutors and investigators that was read out. It was all about the insult of disparate, isolated Israeli micro-communities who feel their country is slipping through their fingers and being stolen from them by the left.
Which is why it was natural to see members of Likud’s LGBT group there, with signs praising Israel’s first gay minister, Amir Ohana (currently serving as Netanyahu’s rottweiler against the legal establishment), alongside homophobe supreme Rabbi Tzvi Tau and his students, who had been ordered to attend to defend “the healthy side of the nation.” They were united by insult there as well. As was Ariel Zilber, once a popular singer, today a self-styled anti-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox oddball, who launched into a rambling, incoherent song he had written for the event with the refrain “Binyamin, friend of God, Israel will stand by you. We won’t be impressed by haters, confident that justice is on your side.”
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“Don’t mock our intelligence,” admonished Orna Peretz, the activist from far-away Kiryat Shmona who Netanyahu famously told “You don’t interest me,” when she heckled him at an event in the northern city. They have long since made their peace. “Every one of us who has come here today, our children serve in the army and we bust our asses to provide for our families,” she said. “Let’s see someone investigate Benny Gantz or Yair Lapid. We all know there’s plenty of dirt there.”
“They spent a quarter of a billion shekels on investigating Netanyahu,” said Ofer Elkabetz from Kiryat Gat. “And this is what they came up with? This ridiculous indictment?”
A right-wing organization was handing out booklets explaining why the indictment didn’t mean Netanyahu has to resign — but there were not many takers. No one needed convincing. Both Peretz and Elkabetz were offended when I suggested that no matter what the investigations would have yielded, they would have stayed behind Netanyahu. “We’re law-abiding citizens, don’t you in the media try to make us out as anything else,” was their answer.