A group of 150 Israeli expats gathered on Friday evening next to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the first of a series of demonstrations set to take place this weekend in the United States and Europe.
Protesters in San Francisco held signs that were almost all in Hebrew, as well as Israeli and black flags – representing the Black Flags movement calling for the prime minister's resignation.
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Other protests are slated to take place in New York City, London and Berlin. The organizers of the San Francisco rally said they knew of more organizing efforts in Los Angeles, Seattle and other U.S. cities.
Over the summer, the anti-government protests in Israel have spread from several dozen activists calling on Netanyahu to resign over corruption charges, to mass rallies across the country. The popular momentum has been fueled by a severe economic crisis resulting from what protesters view as Netanyahu's mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis.
“People are organizing everywhere,” said Etai Beck, CEO of a high-tech company and one of the organizers of Friday’s demonstration in San Francisco. Kobi Cohen, one of the organizers of the protest slated for Sunday morning in New York, told Haaretz that he expects strong turnout. A Facebook invitation for the event states: “We’re supporting and joining our sisters and brothers in Israel who stand up for Israeli democracy.”
“Many of the people who came out to demonstrate live a divided life between Israel and America,” said Beck. “People here flew twice and some even three times to Israel to participate in the three election cycles that the country had last year.” Beck added that his high-tech company employs people in both the U.S. and Israel, and that for many of the protesters, the economic situation in Israel isn’t “someone else’s problem.”
Offir Gutelzon, 45, who lives with his family in Palo Alto, drove more than an hour to join the demonstration. “We are here as patriotic Israelis who love our country,” he told Haaretz over the phone. “We want to express our support for the patriots in Jerusalem outside the prime minister’s residence.”
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According to Guttelzon, the rally has received mixed reactions from the local organized Jewish community. “I think they’re interested in what we’re doing, but many of them don’t understand how severe the situation in Israel is right now,” he said, “It’s hard for them to hear what Netanyahu is trying to do in Israel, how he’s using the crisis to promote anti-democratic laws, how he’s trying to destroy the legal system in order to escape his own trial.”
Rachel Batish, her husband and two children also drove more than an hour to join the protest. “They know why we’re doing this,” she said of the children. "They know we are here to support our brothers and sisters in Israel who are fighting to preserve Israel as a democratic country, which is now led by a corrupt government and an indicted individual.”
Beck told Haaretz that he hopes to continue the demonstrations in the coming weeks, and to see more and more Israelis in the Bay Area join the fight. He said that the organizers were inspired by the Black Flags demonstrators who stand at hundreds of busy junctions and bridges in Israel every Saturday night. He said that “maybe we won’t be able to do it every week, but we want to do it on a regular basis until Netanyahu is gone."