Week after week, tens of thousands of Israelis hit the streets, protesting by the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem; at major intersections; and on bridges. But hundreds of thousands of people who despise Netanyahu too stay home. Most had their fill of him before the coronavirus arrived and he demonstrated how mind-bogglingly detached he really is. But they don’t go out and protest.
I know some of them. They would put the message out differently. They’re also not sure there’s any point. They’ve been disappointed many times before. But they’re wrong.
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They too would agree that the current situation is frightening. It’s a word that’s often used casually, but Netanyahu’s Israel has genuinely imbued it with meaning: It is fairly likely that Israel will become a much more dangerous place than it is right now. “Blood will be spilled in the streets,” Benny Gantz warned, and clearly he’s right because blood has already been spilled in the streets, and we all know whose blood it is, who spilled it and who looked on from above. The situation is frightening. It’s dangerous, and it means we citizens have to make a choice.
One possibility is to trust the political system to serve us. But the last election made the system’s limitations plain. Alternatively one could give up, despair, try to obtain a foreign passport, withdraw into oneself, learn Tai Chi, complain that everyone’s corrupt, sigh and sit back and hope the danger will pass. There’s always room for hope. This is also the possibility that’s preferred by the occupants of the house on Balfour Street: That Israelis stay home and let the present political constellation do as it has always done.
There is a third option: To take responsibility. Tens of thousands of people are doing it every week. It’s not perfect. Different people with different messages, different protesters with different causes – but all share the sense of fear and the insight that they can’t rely on anyone else. This time it’s up to us.
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Do these protest have a chance? Yes. Netanyahu and Co. are clearly feeling the pressure. The crude lies, the obsessing, the dispatching of legions of lackeys to explain that the protests are the work of anarchists, lying about violence on the part of the protesters, asserting, as Likud Knesset member Osnat Mark did, that “you’re only coming here because the nightclubs in Tel Aviv are closed.”
The slime campaign has gotten so extreme it’s almost like a parody of itself. But it’s no laughing matter. A direct consequence of this campaign of lies is violence against the protesters, and is the clearest sign of where we stand, of what the situation really is.
The issue isn’t confined to violence by right-wing counter-protestors any more. The issue is the police, the institution that is supposed to protect the citizenry, and which under Netanyahu and his public security minister Amir Ohana is becoming a nest of sadists.
Jerusalem District Commander Doron Yedid has already announced that Chief Superintendent Nisso Guetta would be posted to Balfour again this Saturday. Guetta had been caught on video choking a man, hitting a photographer and trying to beat another protester. The protester he choked was summoned for questioning by the police and ordered to stay away from Balfour for two weeks.
The police claim the protesters were violent. But they have no record of it. There were cameras there. But somehow, with the Israel Police, there’s never any footage when you need it. Too bad. We’d love to know what the police thinks justifies Chief Superintendent Guetta’s fingers closing around a protester’s windpipe. It must be breathtaking.
To paraphrase Doron Rosenblum, the protests bring out the Bibi in Netanyahu. They show just whom we’re dealing with, how far he’s left the red lines behind, and how far those who serve him are prepared to go. To the point of blood. This is the leader we have now. These are his people. This is what the struggle is about, and no one else will do it for us.