Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s doomsday weapon has been to call on his supporters to take to the streets because “they’re stealing the country from you” and “look what the left wing is doing to us.” In the meantime, he has been labeling today’s demonstrators anarchists, repeating it over and over. Maybe ultimately, as Joseph Goebbels taught us, it will stick. But it hasn’t stuck.
The coronavirus and unemployment have immunized them from that. From their standpoint, the state is no longer Netanyahu and those hurting him are not hurting the country. The protesters are not demonstrating against the government but rather against him. Not on behalf of everyone but rather on behalf of themselves.
They will remain supporters of Netanyahu’s Likud. They won’t join Meretz and won’t demonstrate in support of the separation of religion and state. They are demonstrating because their businesses have also been shut down, because they have also been laid off, because they also don’t know whether to send their kids to school.
And Netanyahu can no longer find an enemy to pin the blame on. He can’t accuse Israelis of privilege of being responsible for the employment, and he can’t accuse the less privileged of failing to prepare for the pandemic. Both Israelis of privilege and those less so are the owners of the country and they are demanding that that the manager be fired as a failure.
But a country isn’t a private business. It’s public. Elected officials are fired through elections, not demonstrations. Elections won’t replace the character of the country but only the prime minister. There won’t be an agreement with the Palestinians even after a third wave of the coronavirus. The masses won’t take over television stations (because who wants to miss the elimination round of our favorite reality show?) and won’t loot the furniture in the Prime Minister’s Residence. Israel isn’t 1989 Romania.
And Netanyahu isn’t Menachem Begin. He won’t even whisper that he is throwing in the towel. The man with 30 Knesset seats, according to the polls, with three indictments hanging over his head believes he can defeat the coronavirus and the unemployment with one hand tied behind his back. He will shift public discourse from his terrible failure with lies and incitement because that’s what he’s used to doing before an earthquake.
There will be an earthquake and the ones who will bring him down will not be the demonstrators. He will be defeated by the voters in Be’er Sheva and Ramle and Ofakim, who will put pressure on Likud party activists, on the party branch secretaries and on Likud Knesset members who won’t let him forget whom he has to thank for his royal palace and official airplane. They will ask one another how to get rid of a man who once gave them plum jobs and pride and now is a source of destruction and fear.
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Now they understand that there is a connection between their sitting at home without a penny to their name and the corruption up above, between the corruption up above and the corrupt decisions that land down below (for instance in opening Ikea during the first wave of the pandemic). They see the connection.
They understand that it’s not Likud’s fault and not the country’s fault, but rather the prime minister’s fault. They understand that someone who hasn’t given a damn about the law also doesn’t give a damn about them. They don’t want to replace democracy. They just want everything to go back to normal.
They miss the good old days of the threat from Iran and incendiary balloons being sent over the border from Gaza, those days before the submarine deal and Netanyahu’s sale of corporate shares in the United States. Before everything was so clear. The right wing was the right wing and the left was the left. Mizrahim were right wing and Ashkenazim supported Labor, and the prospect of a fourth round of elections was scarier than an Iranian bomb.
Oy, how afraid we were of a fourth election! How another election would waste billions! And then look what happened. Instead of an election costing 4 billion shekels, we got a lockdown costing 90 billion. They sold us on a forthright government that would save us from unemployment and COVID-19, yet now we have unemployment, a pandemic and a government that hands out benefits to those who know how to apply the pressure.
A jobless nation gripped with fear of the coronavirus gazes at the television. They show the people numbers that mean nothing. And it’s not only the people who don’t understand them. The press and the Knesset coronavirus committee don’t either.
On television, there is anger at the demonstrators for blocking roads. Better that they protest somewhere else, in the Judean Desert maybe. The nation won’t run to cabinet ministers for help. The people will remain silent when they are tossed 100 shekels on the ground in small coins. They will bend down and pick up the change, but they won’t forget.
At the beginning, the people will stand on the sidelines of the protests. Then they will move into the middle of them, and ultimately they too will yell “Bibi go home” – as Channel 12 reporter Moshe Nussbaum furrows his brow and calls the people anarchists.