Analysis |

Netanyahu Tried to Stifle Dissent. He Got One of Israel's Largest Protests

The smaller protests forced by coronavirus restrictions expose demonstrators to more violence, increasing fears of a political murder

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
Police and protesters in Tel Aviv on October 3, 2020.
Police and protesters in Tel Aviv on October 3, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The usual protesters near the prime minister’s official Balfour Street residence in Jerusalem noticed something different – the disappearance of the prime minister’s convoy. The loud and aggressive convoy is a permanent part of the landscape, at least twice a day. But last week, nobody remembered seeing it, from either the main entrance on Gaza Road or the secondary entrance from Smolenskin Street. Maybe the Shin Bet security service has found another way in, and maybe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t have time to go home or found himself a place to rest elsewhere.

Either way, there’s a feeling among the protesters that the demonstrations are getting to Netanyahu and putting his family under strain. There’s no other explanation for the great pressure Netanyahu is bringing to bear to place them outside the boundaries of allowed activities during the lockdown. His victory in the cabinet and the Knesset appeared pyrrhic on Saturday.

Haaretz podcast: Israel in lockdown limbo, and what's really stuffed in Bibi's laundry suitcasesCredit: Haaretz

The picture of his victory was to have shown Paris Square, near his residence, empty of protesters on Saturday night. The square was indeed relatively empty, but still, more than 200 protesters gathered. And the thousands did not remain at home, either. On the contrary, it seemed that the core of young people who usually come to Balfour Street gathered in Tel Aviv.

The long protest, in which the police arrested 38 people and handed out hundreds of tickets, shows that their determination has not weakened at all. The opposite is true. As in the case of the arrest of protest leader Amir Haskel, the use of water cannons and false arrests, this time too, it seems that the attempt to suppress the protests was like dousing a fire with gasoline.

In addition to the demonstration in Tel Aviv, one of the largest protests in the country's history took place on Saturday night. Hundreds – apparently more than a thousand – demonstrations of between dozens and a few hundred people were held throughout the country. The fact that the government prohibited people from traveling more than a kilometer from their homes solved the dilemma for many people as to whether to travel to Jerusalem to join the protest. They simply walked out of the house and protested at the nearest junction. Children, old people and families stood at almost every square and every junction in cities and main roads and opposite the homes of ministers and lawmakers.

The protests were sparked by the sense of emergency in light of the ban on demonstrations, and a feeling of frustration over the ongoing failure of the government in dealing with the pandemic. If someone hoped that the lockdown and the bans would snuff out the protest, they had a disappointing Saturday night.

Unfortunately, the small and scattered demonstrations are turning protesters into easier prey as far as Netanyahu supporters are concerned. Dozens of reports of violence, cursing, spitting and threats against the protesters flowed throughout the evening. Netanya Ginzburg, 81, who was attacked by a Netanyahu supporter at the a junction in Jerusalem’s Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood and fell, recalled the protest in which peace activist Emil Grunzweig was killed in 1983 and said she was afraid it would happen again. Her fear is very justified.

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