Israel's anti-Netanyahu Protesters Are Sick of Keyboard Heroes

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Anti-Netanyahu protesters offer roses to a police officer attempting to clear the street, Jerusalem, December 22, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters offer roses to a police officer attempting to clear the street, Jerusalem, December 22, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

For 26 weeks we’ve been outside the prime minister’s residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street. From tank tops and flip-flops we’ve moved to wool hats and gloves. And we have no intention of stopping until the nightmare known as Benjamin Netanyahu has departed from our lives. Meanwhile, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s keyboard heroes who give out grades to the protests.

I read Gideon Levy’s column (December 20) and was stunned by its clinical detachment. The Balfour protests are a cacophony of causes that have joined forces for an agreed common purpose – the defendant must go. Because of the protests’ organic nature and their dispensing with leadership, they adapt and align themselves to a changing, dynamic situation.

But there are two things on which everyone who comes regularly to Balfour agrees. The first is that regardless of why someone has come to protest, the desired result is that Netanyahu “Leave!” The second is the understanding that Netanyahu won’t leave of his own accord under any circumstances, and therefore the goal of the protests is to undermine the forces keeping him in power so as to bring about his ouster.

In recent weeks, the Balfour protests have racked up three impressive achievements. They spurred MK Gideon Sa’ar to get up and do something, they broke up the pro-corruption bloc, and they brought Likud to an unprecedented low in the polls.

But it’s not just Knesset members whom the protests have influenced. They have especially had an impact on ordinary people sitting at home, and the real change in consciousness is happening on the public level.

If there’s anything the polls tell us, it’s what’s happening on the right. And what’s happening is that the calls to “Leave!” emerging from the Balfour protests – the sentiment we have been expressing with our bodies for 26 weeks now – is creating ripples and affecting the public. These calls have broken through the police barricades and escaped the bounds of the left-wing bloc.

Politics is like the pancreas – a vital organ whose existence people don’t even remember as long as it’s functioning properly. In a normal situation, people are supposed to vote every four years and occasionally take a momentary interest to check that everything is working. When does someone remember he has a pancreas? Only when he’s sick.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters hold a lighted sign that reads 'liar,' Jerusalem, December 19, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

And that’s exactly what has happened in Israel over the last two years. People are simply fed up with feeling like they have a pancreas.

Dear Gideon Levy, it isn’t the left that supports Gideon Sa’ar, but the sane right, whose pancreas is hurting. The left will vote for whomever offers it left-wing positions. But in any case, a left-wing government presumably won’t arise here after the next election – and that’s okay.

One of the reasons a relevant left hasn’t managed to emerge in Israel is that for years now, there hasn’t been a right-wing government, but a Bibi government, which makes decisions based on circumstances with no connection to either right or left. And when there’s no right, it’s difficult if not impossible to establish a left.

Political blocs arise as counter-reactions. And how is it possible to develop an opposition bloc against a corrupt mutation devoid of ideology that makes decisions arbitrarily and randomly?

It’s not far-fetched to assume that the road to a future left-wing government will necessarily run through an ideologically right-wing government, one that will put issues like annexation, apartheid and occupation on the table. Only once this happens will we be able to pound on the table and say “No! We’re for two states, for separation, for negotiations, because we’re the left.”

But before we can reach a state of political health, in which there are arguments over principles, opinions and aspirations, we need an infrastructure that will enable such a conversation. We need the infrastructure of a functioning democracy, one that isn’t preoccupied all day, every day with one man and his attempts to avoid jail through tricks and shticks that have nothing to do with right versus left.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters carry torches as they march through Jerusalem, December 12, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Levy accuses the young people protesting at Balfour of being willing to lend a hand to messianic annexationists as long as Netanyahu is kicked out. Can you blame them?

My children, aged 20-plus, can’t remember a political reality in which there was no Netanyahu. This is a generation that grew up under a kind of autocratic monarchy, a generation that doesn’t even have the ability to imagine how democracy works. Bibi, for them, is a quasi-monarchical axiom.

They don’t know what a politician with ideology is. They aren’t acquainted with the politics of ideas. They don’t know what the left is, and they certainly don’t know what the right is, because for years there has been neither left nor right here.

They are willing to do everything in their power to restore that thing called democracy, which they are acquainted with only from our stories and the legacy of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, which in their view is history, not genuinely present and bleeding as it is for us. How can they be wary of the right when they don’t really know what is hiding inside it?

What’s important now is to get rid of the plague that threatens democracy. And what will end the defendant’s reign is the fact that a majority of Israelis are simply fed up living with a diseased pancreas.

If we have to go through a terrible right-wing government along the way, it’s a necessary step in the recuperation and reconstruction of the left. In this sense, the protests are bringing us closer to the goal for which they were intended, and they won’t stop until it is achieved: coming together to oust the defendant.

Limor Moyal is an author, a doctoral student in exegesis and culture and an activist working to promote liberal democracy.

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