Opinion

Netanyahu Is Quaking; a Popular Protest Movement Could Topple Him

Uzi Baram
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People take part in a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank and Trump's mideast initiative, in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 23, 2020.
People take part in a protest against Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank and Trump's mideast initiative, in Tel Aviv, Israel, June 23, 2020. Credit: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner
Uzi Baram

Less than a decade ago, in 2011, widespread socioeconomic protests that nobody had predicted erupted. Unemployment rates weren’t soaring back then, but the cost of living had risen, and it’s still rising today. Thus young people felt their future wasn’t assured and their chances of getting good pensions and finding housing had declined.

The leaders of that protest movement weren’t political figures. They were expressing their own feelings and those of people like them, and many people back then identified with their struggle.

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LISTEN: Bibi's bonanza, arresting activists and the death of God TVCredit: Haaretz

Benjamin Netanyahu, then as now prime minister, feared the protest movement’s popularity. He sought to make it go away by any possible means, and in the end, he set up the Trajtenberg Committee. Establishing this committee gradually slowed the protest movement until it disappeared completely.

Today, too, in 2020, public pressure could undermine Netanyahu. This pressure has arisen both because of the coronavirus crisis and its impact on the economy and because of his own corruption, which has been revealed in all its ugliness and become impossible to hide.

From a strategic standpoint, there are two things that could change the situation in Israel. One is Donald Trump being defeated in the U.S. presidential election in November. His downfall would be a blessing both for America and for the liberal democratic bloc in Israel. The second is a new socioeconomic protest movement, which this time would also hoist the banner of a war on corruption.

The center-left bloc is very afraid of elections, because it is now divided and no longer has a unifying leader who can challenge Netanyahu. Therefore, many members of this bloc see the current rotation government as the lesser evil. Many are also convinced that the public isn’t sufficiently sensitive to corruption and the prime minister’s embarrassing behavior.

But people do remember Netanyahu’s poisonous speech attacking the entire Israeli justice system, which was delivered just moments before the start of his trial. And I’m convinced this disgrace won’t be forgotten quickly.

A widespread, nonpartisan protest movement that would combine the issue of economic distress with that of public corruption could definitely undermine Netanyahu’s rule. Brig. Gen. Amir Haskel speaks for many people. Moreover, if his protest and that of his colleagues become a mass movement, its leaders may demonstrate greater stamina than their predecessors did in 2011.

There are skeptics who say that Netanyahu’s base will cling to him through fire and water. That’s true. Nevertheless, there’s a difference between a base worth 28 Knesset seats and one worth 38. And Netanyahu’s latest move, his demand for tax breaks for himself, could reduce his base by more than he thinks.

It’s possible that his supporters see the bribery, fraud and breach of trust cases against him as flawed or even fabricated. But they’re now watching the prime minister refuse to pay taxes like the rest of us have to do and sending his water carriers to the media to excuse this demand on the pretext that he’s a wretched “economic cripple.” Here, his nakedness is being revealed before his base’s very eyes.

The pressure is visible on Netanyahu’s face. He’s quaking. When he believed the coronavirus was under control, he crowned himself “Mr. Corona.” But now that the virus has returned for a second round, we aren’t seeing him brag to the nation.

The public isn’t naïve. It understands, and the polls show this. The words “left” and “Arabs” cast a spell over a large, trusting section of the public several months ago, but now, in the shadow of the coronavirus and the corruption, we are seeing glimmers of change.

A small protest movement already made waves. A large, popular movement like that of 2011 could genuinely undermine Netanyahu, and even topple him.

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