These Right-wingers Are Taking Their Love of Bibi to the Streets

A sleepy Tel Aviv suburb has become a magnet for protesters, with a group of right-wingers the latest to bring their slogans and placards to Petah Tikva

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Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu carrying a sign proclaiming "Netanyahu = Dreyfus" in Petah Tikva, October 5, 2019.
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu carrying a sign proclaiming "Netanyahu = Dreyfus" in Petah Tikva, October 5, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani

Defiantly displaying accusatory banners denouncing the Israeli legal system and declaring that “Netanyahu = Dreyfus” and State Prosecutor “Shai Nitzan is fabricating cases,” hundreds of faithful right-wing supporters of Israel’s Prime Minister crowded Goren Square in Petah Tikva Saturday night, protesting what they — echoing Netanyahu — believe is a witch hunt against an elected leader.

The crowd, many of them carrying blue and white flags emblazoned with the logo of Netanyahu’s Likud party, chanted “Justice!” and cries of “Bibi, you are not alone!”

Petah Tikva’s Kfar Ganim is no stranger to angry protests. What was once considered a sleepy Tel Aviv suburb has, over the past two years, become a political hot spot as opponents of Netanyahu targeted the residence of the country’s attorney general, Avichai Mendelblit.

Forbidden by the police to stand directly in front of the AG’s house, the protesters now gather about 400 meters (about 1,300 feet) away in Goren Square, voicing their frustration over the fact that the multiple corruption cases against the prime minister have taken so long — in what they charge has been deliberate foot-dragging and reluctance to bring Netanyahu to justice.

Only a small number of the veteran anti-Netanyahu protesters were on hand Saturday, as a line of police officers separated the pro-Netanyahu and anti-Netanyahu forces.

This week, Netanyahu’s supporters said, it was their turn to vent their anger at Mendelblit for falsely charging the premier with crimes he did not commit, in service of a political agenda they believe has been concocted by a left-wing media and deep state conspiracy.

A protester carrying an Israeli flag at the demonstration near Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's home in Petah Tikva, October 5, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozny

“We are at a turning point,” said Ran Karmi Buzaglo, a far-right activist and Likud supporter who is one of the protest organizers. “We understood we had to go beyond advocating on social media and get out in public to express our love for the prime minister and our fury at this ongoing injustice that looks to us like an organized effort to convict him at any cost and remove a leader who was democratically elected.”

Saturday’s demonstration drew an array of right-wing pundits and talk show hosts who, until recently, had staged their defense of Netanyahu across Twitter and Facebook timelines and on the airwaves. It seems that the imminent indictment of Netanyahu, together with the unresolved and tangled government coalition negotiations, brought them out from behind their computers and microphones.

The latest wave of right-wing protests in Goren Square began on October 1, the evening before the first day of the pre-indictment hearings against Netanyahu began.

On the second day of the hearing, October 3, a theatrical protest was held outside the Justice Ministry offices in Jerusalem (where the legal proceedings were taking place). One of the protesters sat at a table with stacks of binders around her and declared she was doing what the clerks inside the government buildings were doing: “Sewing” — Hebrew vernacular for “fabricating” criminal cases against the prime minister. Last Saturday’s protest, again back in Petah Tikva, took place on the eve of the third day of hearings.

‘Conquering the State of Tel Aviv’

Karmi Buzaglo is a firebrand activist best known for having spearheaded support for Elor Azaria, the Israel Defense Forces soldier who served nine months in prison for killing a prone and wounded Palestinian assailant in 2016. Karmi Buzaglo hit the headlines last year when he attempted to launch a burning kite over the southern Israeli border into the Gaza Strip, in an act of revenge for the kite attacks coming from Gaza that set fire to acres of Israeli land.

Right-wing activist Ran Karmi Buzaglo being removed from a stage at a demonstration in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square in 2017.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

He told Haaretz that the protests will continue every Saturday night in Petah Tikva throughout the attorney general’s deliberations as to whether to indict Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases involved alleged fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

Karmi Buzaglo added that he is also busy organizing a larger event: A protest he plans to call “Conquering the State of Tel Aviv — the Fortress of the Radical Left,” which he said is intended to declare that the right-wing majority of Israelis “will return to being the ones who determine what happens in this country.”

He said he was “overwhelmed” by the turnout and enthusiasm for the cause, and castigated the media for only reporting that “hundreds” attended the latest protest when he estimated the crowd at about 5,000 — including, he said, busloads who came from across the country.

Pro-Netanyahu supporters at the demonstration in Petah Tikva, October 5, 2019. The man on the right holds a sticker saying "Netanyahu: Best for Israel."Credit: Meged Gozny

“I haven’t seen so much grassroots motivation for an event that was not sponsored or underwritten by an official organization since I led protests against the Oslo agreement in the 1990s,” Karmi Buzaglo said.

He said he firmly believes the turnout at his demonstrations will continue to grow. Netanyahu’s failure to rally enough support for the right in the September 17 election to regain a mandate, he added, was not a genuine reflection of the hearts and minds of the majority of Israelis. He believes that the “endless vilification” of Netanyahu by the media and their “blood libel” against his family drove Likud voters into the arms of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu and Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan parties, stealing the victory from the prime minister.

The efforts on Netanyahu’s behalf did not go unacknowledged. The prime minister posted a video on Facebook showing his gratitude toward his supporters, accompanied by the text “Love you” and a heart emoji.

In the video, Netanyahu told his supporters: “I want to thank you for the tremendous show of support” calling it “moving” and “heartwarming.” Remarking on the declarations by demonstrators that “Benjamin Netanyahu will never walk alone,” the premier responded: “I want to ... tell you that after I’ve seen you and heard you, I really don’t feel alone.”

The battle resumes on Saturday.

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