An effective protest is a protest that sweeps people in. It also sweeps in those who are on sitting on the fence, or who are even opposed at first to joining in. The regular protests seeking to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are effective because more and more people are joining in – including some who were previously undecided and have now made up their minds to act.
Netanyahu made it through three elections with three serious indictments against him. He formed a government following an indictment for bribery. He devoted financial and advertising resources to undermine the indictments and damage the legitimacy of the entire justice system.
The protests against him are not homogenous. They are an amalgam of demonstrations on a modest scale that when combined created a nationwide protest movement.
Many of the protesters are upset about the diminished standing of Israel’s democracy and legal institutions. They are demanding that Netanyahu step down because a prime minister who is fighting the charges against him by any and every means possible is a dangerous leader who is not guided by moral values – and the same goes for his close circle of supporters. The protests have managed to dent Netanyahu’s leadership authority, but that alone is insufficient to tip the balance.
The nation is in deep crisis. As it emerges from the coronavirus lockdown and people begin to move around more freely, the intensity of the economic crisis will wallop the country from every direction. The government’s grants and loans are a woefully inadequate response. Without a 2021 state budget, there is no economic plan and there are no economic targets. That means there is no real possibility of planning for the future.
Many of the protesters are focused on their personal and family situations and are also upset by the state of their government, which is helpless in the face of ultra-Orthodox citizens who are openly defying its authority and making an utter mockery of it.
Protesting solely over the collapse of the country’s democracy and the conduct of the police and against the Prime Minister’s Residence as a symbol of the country’s decline can be a source of pride, but it won’t tip the balance either. If the protest is to really surge forward, the coronavirus and the economic crisis have to be the central issues.
The 2011 social protest didn’t set out to tip the balance. It gained traction from the street, due to the despair of young people fed up with the cost of living and neo-capitalist values, and it was far more successful than its organizers envisioned.
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After realizing that the 2011 protest threatened his rule, Netanyahu was ready to pay any price to stop it. He managed to kill it by establishing a public committee that failed to address the roots of the crisis, but it took the air out of the protest.
Now the time is ripe for a protest movement that could actually tip the balance, so long as it is focused on the issues that are at the real heart of what affects the public and at the heart of public discourse.
The protest has to voice the concerns of the public at large, a portion of which is awash with daily propaganda about the justice system and democracy and has therefore perceived the protests as part of a political dispute, and has not shocked them into participating. The broader public feels that it has lost its way at the moment. It doesn’t believe in the logic on which the government’s decisions are based.
Netanyahu’s image as the all-capable leader has been damaged. The dilemmas that he is facing over another possible Knesset election may be fed by his confidence that he would then be able to pass legislation sparing him a trial, but a growing and multidimensional protest that highlights economic neglect and a failure of leadership would deprive the prime minister of any such options.
The current protest is a real achievement, but it has to become broader and more representative. That’s how you win a public battle.