“I am a mother of three, I have done nothing,” a woman with bright red lipstick screams as officers drag her into a prisoner. She is among dozens arrested last week in demonstrations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
It is not going to be quiet on Balfour Street, the street in Jerusalem where the official residence of Netanyahu is. Protests take place almost every day. A small group of protesters have gathered here for years to oppose what they see as Netanyahu’s breakdown of the rule of law, who are facing three corruption cases. In recent weeks, new and younger groups have joined, with a mix of requirements and goals. With one common denominator: the prime minister has to leave. “We will not give up until Bibi leaves.”
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The major catalyst is the corona crisis and the related economic slump. While the prime minister was originally praised for his approach, everyone now sees that the hoped-for recovery of the economy is drifting further out of reach. Unemployment remains sky high, company after company goes bankrupt. The promised aid packages are insufficient.
The protesters demand more than financial compensation; they want social justice. “People wake up,” says interior designer Moran Raif, 35. “As poverty approaches everyone, they can empathize with those who have protested for some time.” The immediate reason for the demonstration in which she participates on Thursday is a new law that gives the cabinet unprecedented power to pass parliament in corona decisions. Protesters fear a dictatorship.
“Come on, this is all of us,” says one banner. Bibi is just trying to prevent that. He now also applies the divide and rule tactics with which he has been winning elections for so long. He will only be in real danger if the economic demonstrations of different professions merge with the anti-Bibi demonstrations, as happened this week when angry restaurateurs started handing out free meals.
The number of Likud voters on the Balfour demonstrations has so far been very limited; to keep it that way, their leader portrays the protesters as left-wing anarchists. Small groups of Bibi supporters harass activists who look “left”.
The harsh police crackdown with which Netanyahu combines this demonization appears to be counterproductive. The protests gained momentum after a 66-year-old veteran was arrested in late June. After the record number of 50 arrests on Thursday, not four to five thousand demonstrators came to Jerusalem on Saturday.
The prime minister’s position weakens day by day. Some analysts are already certain that Bibi is out for a fourth election round, before the evidence phase of his criminal case begins in January 2021. However, calling new elections is risky for Netanyahu. Although he has eliminated his biggest rival Benny Gantz and his party by joining them in the coalition, Likud is also making a big splash in the polls.
Especially Naftali Bennett from the right-wing Yamina presents herself as someone who does take action. He attacks the Prime Minister on his corona policy, but also on the plan to annex parts of Palestinian territory, announced by Netanyahu. Probably Netanyahu’s right-wing dream coalition, hoping to escape prosecution, will not make the required 61 Knesset seats. Mutiny is also growing within Netanyahu’s own party.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on July 27, 2020
A version of this article also appeared in nrc.next of July 27, 2020