The significance of the pro-Netanyahu demonstrations that began spontaneously some two weeks ago in the city of Petah Tikvah, not far from where Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit lives, is not only in that they have reclaimed an area occupied by anti-Netanyahu demonstrators for more than a year-and-a-half. These demonstrations–which began with just a few hundred, but now draw thousands–signify something much deeper than just support for Netanyahu. They are a clear signal that the right-wing constituency has grown fed-up with the condescending attitude toward them so often expressed by left-wing politicians, journalists, academics and those in the judiciary.
Gadi Taub, a keynote speaker at the second demonstration, which took place on October 12, explained the reason behind these gatherings: “We came here to say that we demand equality before the law, not selective rule of law in the service of the Left’s agenda.” Taub, a historian currently teaching at the Hebrew University, is a former left-winger who has gained popularity over the last couple of years, initially through social media, due to his ability to articulate in simple terms his critique of the Left, which is based on his extensive knowledge of the processes that have turned it toward progressivism.
Taub expresses the opinion of many right-wingers, who by now are totally convinced that Netanyahu’s alleged criminality, and possible indictment, has nothing to do with the rule of law or corruption. Instead, the effort to indict the prime minister is perceived as an attempt by an otherwise-unelectable Left to overthrow long-standing right-wing rule by undemocratic means. And this effort has been undertaken on many fronts, including subversive activities by NGOs, the propagations of fake news, and relentless character assassination. And all of this has been going on since 1977, when Likud first came to power, though it has certainly escalated since Netanyahu first became prime minister in 1996. For the Right, the attacks against Netanyahu are part and parcel of an assault on everything for which they stand, including red-line issues like the Jewish identity of the state and the future of the so-called “West Bank.”
But perhaps the one thing that hurts right-wingers most is the condescending, maligning attitude of the Ashkenazi Israeli intellectual elite toward the right-wing constituency, most of whom are Sephardic and traditional Jews. These people–who have been called “Baboons,” “herd,” “livestock”–seem to have had enough of this long-unchallenged bias that borders on racism.
So, pro-Bibi as most of these demonstrations clearly are, they now signal something new, namely that the complacent Right is done sitting idly by, and that the time has come to reclaim the lost honor of the right-wing constituency too long trampled over by their political rivals.
Perhaps nothing better symbolizes this shift than the current prevailing attitude toward top journalist Amnon Abramovitch, who has had it out for Netanyahu since 1996. Despite his decades-long anti-Bibi commentaries and reports, Abramovitch’s injuries suffered in the Yom Kippur War have thus far shielded him from harsh criticism, since no one in Israel likes to take any kind of position against our wounded veterans.
But this protection has completely evaporated in light of two of Abramovich’s latest comments, which seem to be the final straws that broke the camel’s back. On October 10, he referred to right-wingers as “natives,” which was rightly perceived as derogatory. Following this, right-wing activist Ran Karmi Buzaglo wrote on Facebook: “Now he is calling us ‘natives’. Little despised man who is using his platform to spread havoc … and if, God forbid, you dare criticize him … the media junta will hang you for coming after an Israeli hero.” The outrage has led to a petition demanding that Abramovich be removed from Channel 12 News, as well as a call for the right-wing constituency to boycott Channel 12 altogether.
The second outcry followed Abramovich’s appearance last week on the evening news program of Oded Ben-Ami, also a well-known anti-Bibi media personality. The two who were discussing the possible end of the Netanyahu era when Ben-Ami concluded by reciting in a cheerful mood “speedily and very soon! And say, Amen.” This clause is part of the Kaddish, a most sacred prayer typically said on behalf of the deceased. Abramovich responded by repeating it enthusiastically with a resounding “Amen.” This episode wasn’t perceived just as tasteless sacrilege. It was understood as nothing less of a death wish for Netanyahu. In a particularly angry Facebook post, which I think expresses the feelings of many, Gila Avidan writes: “The both of you [Ben Ami and Abramovich] have said Kaddish on behalf of a prime minister while he is still alive. You have buried the prime minister on a live broadcast.”
A Facebook alert for the Petah Tikvah demonstration last Thursday not only called for Abramovitch to apoligize and be fired from Channel 12, it even suggested that he and Ben-Ami be prosecuted for public incitement against an elected official.
Whether or not the Petah Tikvah demonstrations will continue to gain momentum is yet to be seen. Regardless, it is pretty clear by now that these demonstrations reflect a genuine unrest caused by greater things than Benjamin Netanyahu himself.