In a viral YouTube video, Yair Lapid of the opposition “Blue and White” party is seen speaking on the phone, trying to persuade someone to attend last Saturday night’s demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his alleged efforts to turn Israel into his own private little kingdom.
The conversation went like this: “I don’t care how busy you are … no, you don’t leave your kids with your parents, you take your children and your parents … because you’re going to take part in the most important demonstration of the year.”
Speaking at the demonstration in Tel Aviv, Blue and White head Benny Gantz described its purpose as halting the erosion of Israel’s democracy by a selfish and corrupt prime minister and his cohorts.
“We will not allow you [Netanyahu] to turn Israel into the private domain of a ruling family,” insisted Gantz. “We will not allow you to silence the media, damage cultural and academic institutions, bring down the police … destroy the court of law. We won’t allow you to use fanaticism [a reference to the ultra-Orthodox parties] to shake the foundations of Israeli society. Israel’s values will not be racist values. When you and your racist family members will try to drive political bulldozers over democracy’s foundation, we will be there…”
Gantz’s speech was a concise review of the numerous accusations leveled against Netanyahu, which the prime minister’s opponents believe beyond any shadow of doubt. So many Israelis have today been persuaded that Netanyahu is the root of all evil in Israel, that he is an unrepentant criminal, narcissist and racist. He is now routinely compared to repressive Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a dictator-like leader who exploits Israel’s democracy to bring down Israel’s democracy, all for his own narrow personal benefit.
Given this, in the eyes of his opponents, ridding Israel of Netanyahu is akin to saving Israel, and the opposition is prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish this, including suspending democracy themselves.
Invited to speak at the anti-Netanyahu demonstration was former head of the now-defunct United Arab List, Member of Knesset Ayman Odeh. This is the same Ayman Odeh who supports Palestinian terrorist organizations, backs the anti-Israel BDS movement and wants to strip the state of its Jewish identity. His presence on the dais demonstrated just how far Netanyahu’s opposition is willing to go.
Since I couldn’t resist being at “the most important demonstration of the year,” I joined those 20,000 or so demonstrators who genuinely believe that Israel is facing mortal danger under Netanyahu. The crowd, as I anticipated, was for the most part Ashkenazi, secular and well-behaved left-wingers. No shouting, no loudspeakers, no external expressions of passion and emotion. People came and left within an hour. I asked someone why he was leaving so soon. “Too hot, and my children want to go home,” he told me. I asked another to explain why so many were already going. “Probably because it’s too hot,” he, too, speculated, though I thought the weather was quite pleasant.
Ayman Odeh was the last speaker to address the gathering, and as he spoke, some were seen cheering and clapping their hands, including a couple near me. So, I asked them why they were applauding this guy.
“We agree with what he says,” they replied.
But, I noted, “he says a lot of things, including things against the Jewish State of Israel.”
“That’s what you say,” they answered.
“No,” I pointed out, “this is what Odeh says.”
“Yes… but… Netanyahu is worse than Odeh…” they stammered.
For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how some Israelis could cheer for people who want to do away with the Jewish state. But, this couple verified my suspicion that his opponents genuinely see Netanyahu as a worse threat to Israel than Israel’s actual enemies. As such, I think Netanyahu’s position might not be as secure as his supporters would like to imagine. Powerful forces are now working behind the scenes to bring Netanyahu down at any cost.