In Jerusalem Protest, Netanyahu’s Backers Play Offense, Opponents Play Defense

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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Demonstration of supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the President's residence, Jerusalem, March 7, 2020
Demonstration of supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the President's residence, Jerusalem, March 7, 2020Credit: Emil Salman
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

The two women who stationed themselves outside the President’s Residence in Jerusalem Saturday night were carrying two flags – the Israeli flag and that of the Likud party. “These are our weapons,” said one woman, who had come to demonstrate along with other supporters of Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Across the street was a similar number of demonstrators from the Movement for Quality Government, which had erected a protest tent.

Policemen who looked apathetic were positioned to keep the two groups apart. Shortly after both groups had organized themselves, the noise began. Nearly every demonstrator was carrying a megaphone and everyone was screeching slogans that ended up being unintelligible in the cacophony. It was obvious that neither side could understand what was going on across the street, and probably even on their own side of the street.

The Netanyahu supporters began the evening by turning their backs on the left-wing demonstrators. “They’re air as far as I’m concerned,” said one of the right-wingers, who called on his fellow demonstrators not to look their rivals in the eye. A short while afterward, though, this strategy collapsed. Instead, some of the right-wing demonstrators waved money at the other group, asking, “How much did they pay you to come here?” Others yelled through their megaphones, “Balfour is ours and we’re not giving it up,” referring to the Prime Minister’s Residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.

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“We came from Rehovot,” said one of the Netanyahu supporters. “Half of our demonstrators came from out of the city. Every Saturday night we come to Balfour. The Jerusalemites come out less, they’re probabltired.” He said that the main reason the demonstration was taking place in front of the President’s Residence was not politics but health. “We were supposed to demonstrate at the Azrieli Mall in Tel Aviv,” he said. “But because of the coronavirus it was decided to come to Jerusalem.”

This demonstrator added that he believed a left-wing government was life-threatening. “We will pay for it in blood and terror attacks,” he said. “[Kahol Lavan chairman Benny] Gantz wants to set up a government with the Arabs just to break up [our] bloc, but we won’t let him.” When it was pointed out that Netanyahu had helped the Arab population in various ways, he responded, “He took care of their citizens and that’s fine. We’re not racists. It’s their representatives we can’t cooperate with.”

Demonstration of opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu in front of the President's residence Demand from President Reuben Rivlin to intervene after the 2020 election, Jerusalem, March 7, 2020Credit: Emil Salman

Over the weekend a Movement for Quality Government activist was assaulted and police arrested a suspect, but at this confrontation the violence from the right remained verbal. “With God’s help, we’ll be at your funerals soon!” yelled one of Netanyahu’s supporters. Asked if he really wished death on the left-wing demonstrators, he replied, “That was in a moment of anger. It’s wrong, you’re right.” Despite his conciliatory tone, there were several other similar “moments of anger” during the demonstration.

The Movement of Quality Government demonstrators also came with flags. “We can no longer sit quietly at home,” explained a demonstrator from Mevasseret Yerushalayim, a suburb of the capital. “We are waving the Israeli flag to show them that the country is as important to us as to them. We are bigger patriots than them.” She said that she’d worked in the state’s employ for 35 years. “I worked for this flag,” she said.

Two younger demonstrators smiled despondently when asked if there was a solution to the political stalemate. “There’s no end in sight,” one said. They understood that the noise from the megaphones didn’t really allow them to hear the other side, but added, “The interesting things usually happen at the end of the demonstration, when only a few people from their side remain. They come to the tent and we sit and talk. Then there’s a dialogue.”

It seems the right-wing demonstrators have learned a thing or two from Netanyahu, with almost all of them live-streaming the event on Facebook, along with fiery commentary. The importance of social media to these protesters was clear when one of them declared, “They stole the election from us.”

“We have 63 seats but Hendel [Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Neal Hendel] stole them from us,” she said. She noted that she had read this on Facebook and as far as she was concerned it was gospel. “You know that Gantz sees a psychologist regularly and takes pills?” she asked. “That’s known, you can see it on him.”

She scrolled through her telephone and said that she voluntarily posts such important information on the dozens of groups she manages on WhatsApp, because not everyone can really understand the headlines in the news. When does she have time for this? “I’m unemployed half a year already because the left took my job,” she said. It turned out that a police complaint had been filed against her for hitting a left-wing demonstrator. “They opened a file on me and now I can’t find work because of that.”

After the yelling, declarations and pictures, the Movement for Quality Government people started to disperse. It was then, when the two left-wing demonstrators said the respectful dialogue begins, that a scuffle broke out between two protesters. Police were called to separate them. One Netanyahu supporter tried to egg them on. “That’s how you have to do it. Fight! Fight!”

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