How Pink Became the Color of the anti-Netanyahu Protests

The feminine color of power, the color of hope, optimism and love: Activists explain how pink spread from a small group of artists to take over the protests

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Members of Pink Front demonstrate in Jerusalem, the night before Israel imposed a second nationwide coronavirus lockdown, September 2020.
Members of Pink Front demonstrate in Jerusalem, the night before Israel imposed a second nationwide coronavirus lockdown, September 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

On September 19, right before Israel’s second lockdown started, a group of young women and a few men donned pink bathing suits, pink bandanas, and defied the government’s instructions not to protest. They went down to a beach in Tel Aviv, carrying pink signs that said: “Preserving the right to demonstrate.”

Haaretz Podcast: Could a Trump triumph be Netanyahu's get out of jail free card?Credit: Haaretz

Dubbed the ‘Pink Front,’ these young activists are responsible for the protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu morphing into pink. The takeover happened in a few stages, starting in July, when a group of protesters calling themselved the Balbatim ("The Landlords") started using the color.

“A group of veteran protest groups would come to the prime minister’s residence every Friday, all kinds of youngsters, many of them Jerusalemites, many of them artists and nightlife people,” explains screenwriter Shira Florentine, one of the Balbatim founders. “We looked for a way to distinguish ourselves and decided on pink bandanas.”

Members of Pink Front demonstrating in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

She said it was also an attempt to be a more positive alternative. “We said we can’t find ourselves in the negativity of the protest. We felt they were saying no all the time and we looked for something we could say yes to.”

“We brought pink bandanas to Bastille Day [on July 14] and then all our friends in town wanted them also. We started selling them and it quickly took over,” says Florentine, adding that the accessory was a way to beat the ambient pessimism. “We felt the pink bandana said something about the desire for a change in consciousness, about resistance to the existing situation while looking at the past and the future. Not with feelings of guilt, failure and fear, but with optimism.”

Later, in August, another Balbatim founder, actor Yaniv Segal, 30, formed the “Pink Front” with a few partners from Tel Aviv. Together they focused on setting up spectacles in pink hues. A turning point in making pink prevalent came when a group started distributing pink flags to protesters marching from Jerusalem’s Chords Bridge to the prime minister’s residence. During the lockdown, when the government passed legislation forbidding people to travel to demonstrate, the practice spread to marches in Tel Aviv. Other youth organizations then adopted the pink color, incuding Kumi Israel ("Stand up, Israel") and Hitorarnu ("We've woken up").

Anti-Netanyahu protesters demonstrate on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, September 20, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Artists at work

A pink display that has now become iconic for the protest was the re-enactement of the Ink Flag hoisting, a major event of Israel’s Independence War, when Israeli soldiers raised a homemade flag after reaching the shores of the Red Sea. Artist Emma Tokatly hoisted the Israeli flag with the stripes and Star of David painted in pink. The event took place at the same time as the Saturday events dubbed “the aliens’ Sabbath,” in response to Yair Netanyahu’s calling the protesters “aliens.”

“We decided to make the pink Israeli flag in cooperation with a few protest organizations and we’re continuing to produce it and distribute it in demonstrations,” says Tokatly, sending a picture from her living room, flooded with pink flags of Israel in all sizes. Hoisting the Ink Flag in pink, she says, “was a way to show that the world isn’t imploding. We’re changing something to open a discussion, but not to obliterate Israel.”

A protester holds a pink sign that says 'Go' in the font normally associated with Likud, Jerusalem, October 10, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

She says pink “stands for the yearning for change – a new leadership, a new female leader, an accepting Israel that expresses feeling and compassion and doesn’t wipe out diversity.”

A few days later, members of the “Pink Front” set up a performance inspired by Picasso’s Guernica. “We added the goddess of justice,” explains actor and musician Or Biron, 34. The group members in the display wore glowing cowls in the style of feminist protest Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot, alongside the goddess of justice dressed in golden shades and holding scales.

'3,000,' a Pink Front performance, Tel Aviv, 2020.Credit: Ben Cohen

A few days later they dressed up as pink scuba divers in reference to the submarine corruption affair, dubbed Case 3,000 by the police. “To remind people of the important number 3,000,” Biron says, “we carried oxygen tanks on our backs to create the number, and in the end the submarine itself also joined us.”

At the end of August they created the display “Corruption is Suffocating the People.”

'Corruption is Suffocating the People,' a Pink Front performance, Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, August 2020.Credit: Ben Cohen

“It’s one of the more aggressive. We began with folk dancing in [Tel Aviv’s] Rabin Square, and made the people happy. But we were also carrying signs that said ‘My pocket hurts,’ to paraphrase the idiom,” Biron says, which in Hebrew slang reads as a sexual pun. Two days later, they staged the “Run horse, Run” performance in response to police violence, in which they carried pink cardboard horses stuck to bamboo canes.

“These are the only horses that should be in demonstrations,” says Biron. “Pink horses and not ones that shit on us. We said we were pink riders facing a real rider, it ridicules the whole situation.”

'Run, Horse, Run,' a Pink Front performance in Tel Aviv, 2020.Credit: Ben Cohen

The Pink Front’s symbols are also pink. Their first logo, designed by Oren Fisher, was a pink head surrounded by stars. The current one, designed by Doron Flamm, shows a generic person with a pink bandana. In recent weeks the front members made another few artistic moves, including setting a pink sukka in Jaffa’s Clock Tower square.

Actor Calanit Sharon, 31, says the displays are made at minimal cost. “A lot of creativity and a little financing and selling bandanas. It’s the lowest of low cost. We make and design everything ourselves.”

Actor Atalia Zehavi, 31, says “it’s not that we’re only protest people, we’re artists working in the protest sphere.”

Between Iran and Kyrgyzstan

Colorful protests are nothing new. They spread around the world in the 1980s when color television and print media became commonplace. Most were characterized by nonviolent actions. One of the first was the popular revolution in the Philippines in 1986, which was also called the Yellow Revolution. The protesters wore yellow while calling to remove President Ferdinand Marcos. The color yellow remains popular, like the recent protests Yellow Vest protests in France.

Yellow Vests protest in Paris, France, 2018.Credit: BENOIT TESSIER/רויטרס

In 2004, the Orange Revolution broke out in Ukraine, which called for new elections following contested results. The 2005 revolution in Kyrgyzstan, a country saturated with revolutions, was also called the Pink Revolution, when protesters called to overthrow President Askar Akayev. The feminist protests against Trump two years ago also included a mass women’s march with pink hats.

Another famous colorful revolution was the Green Movement in 2009 in Iran: Protesters demonstrated against what they saw as fraudulent election results that gave a landslide victory to the hardline presidential candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The protesters wore green clothing and masks and carried green signs with slogans such as “Where’s my vote?”

Protesters wear green during protests in Iran, 2009.Credit: REUTERS

In Israel, the Black Panthers, established in 1971, was one of the first groups to identify with color. Their name was not chosen because of the color of their clothes – it was about their ethnic North African origin, mirroring the radical Black civil rights movement in the 1960s United States. Groups fighting for LGBTQ rights in 2018 and 2019 called themselves the Pink Panthers, recoloring symbols used by the Israeli Black Panthers.

The protest against the Gaza disengagement in 2005 used the color orange – in clothing, signs and orange ribbons ties to cars. The social protests of the summer of 2011 were characterized by yellow, and the present protest against Netanyahu began with the color black, which came from the Black Flags movement.

Protesters wear orange at the right-wing rally against the Gaza disengagement in Netivot, Israel, July 2005.Credit: Lior Mizrahi

So why are the people of the present protest movement sticking with pink? “Pink represents the weak,” Yaniv Segal explains. “Pink is feminine, soft, autistic, gay. We want society to take care of the weak. The choice of this color comes from a strong place, because we want a just society."

“In my life I never created with such a flow,” the actor says. “I feel that we are on a mission as artists to be the prophet at the gates.”

Biron says that the use of pink is revolutionary. “They said that it was forbidden for us to dance,” she says, referring to a concert cum protest in Tel Aviv, where police required organizers to prevent the audience from dancing, supposedly to prevent the spread of coronavirus. “In what type of world is it forbidden to dance? The pink grew from the street in an organic manner and spread the way only hope can. It includes all the people, without any differences of religion, race and gender. It strengthens the weak.” Sharon added: “We may be pink, but there is deep pain inside. Our cries using the color pink are not violent and it brings people closer to us. Nonviolent protests succeed better.”

Anti-Netanyahu protesters demonstrate on Habima Square in Tel Aviv, October 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Yael Rapp, a 25-year-old student, is a member of Kumi Yisrael, which adopted the color. She tells of how in the past weeks they prepared thousands of pink flags. “We didn’t expect that they would be snatched up so quickly when we came to give them out at the demonstrations. But something attracts people to the color pink. Its visibility in the public space stands out, like it decorates the protest with pink flowers of optimism. Something in this color works very strongly on the soul – it arouses hope, faith in good, and unconditional love.”

“Facing the incitement, the hatred and aggressiveness that rules in Israeli society – we are dreaming about a happier future. A future whose guiding value is compassion, a future of female leadership, solidarity and equality. The future that we deserve and they have taken from us,” she says.

Designer Yoav Einhar has two decades of experience in created art for political campaigns. He designed campaigns for Meretz, political candidates such as Assaf Harel in Tel Aviv and the mayor of Hod Hasharon Amir Kochavi, as well as for non-governmental organizations like Peace Now, B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. These days he is working for Kumi Israel as a volunteer.

“Consciously or not, youth organizations looked for a unique color that wasn’t ‘burned’ and they decided to combine the highlighted fluorescent hues. Orange was used in the disengagement, red was communist, blue was for a lot of parties, green was for Meretz. Pink is a color they used here and there, in the Slut Walk and also Orli Levi’s Gesher used pink, but it is a color that is relatively not in use.”

Doesn’t pink color them in a childish, naive shade?

“Pink is infantile and brings out a lot of stigmas. But it has big advantages. It represents optimism and it is very present on the ground. And it also not political: Not a single party in Israel uses pink and most of the campaigns of left-wing organizations were always in dark and gloomy colors. The color pink is very good for the protests. It disperses them and prevents a clear definition and specific leaders.”

Will the protests be remembered as the pink protest?

“I think so. The black flags have also started becoming passe. The pinks are dominant in the marches and we see the color coming to the bridges too. In my opinion, it will catch on even more. Suddenly you see the pink in all sorts of places: Israeli goalkeeper Ofir Marciano wore pink. We looked at it and said how great it was. It’s cool that suddenly men are wearing pink, putting on pink masks. [Prominent TV journalists] Rina Matzliah and Dana Weiss also wore pink last Saturday. I don’t know if these things are subconscious or intentional, but I believe that within a few weeks it will take over completely.”

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