An anti-Netanyahu demonstration at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv

Israeli zealots of any stripe cannot have the upper hand

Opinion: The weeks of protests against the prime minister have not succeeded in bringing about a change and organizers should not allow radicals among them to mirror the Haredi community in its catastrophic disregard of health measures

Ben-Dror Yemini |
Updated: 09.30.20 , 00:03
As I came across the demonstration in Tel Aviv last Saturday evening, I was approached by a protester who told me she was angry with me. When I asked what I had done to cause her ire, she said she found my identification with the protests lacking.
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  • "We are still a democracy," I told her, "and I am not forced to be in complete agreement with any one political camp."
    I added that though I agree with some of the reasons behind the demonstrations calling for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign, I don't agree with all of them.
    כיכר רבין תל אביבכיכר רבין תל אביב
    An anti-Netanyahu demonstration at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    An ultra-Orthodox friend of mine told me that new health restrictions are being announced in his community, but seem to have no basis to them. Some adhere to them, but those who wonder what they are based upon keep silent for fear of being accused of not having enough faith.
    "Some rabbis have been calling for us to comply with health directives, has that helped?" he said.
    "Other religious leaders always point to the scriptures that show religious studies are more important than anything else and the rising numbers of morbidity are an indication of who in our community has the upper hand."
    המשטרה מפזרת חסידי ויזניץ בבני ברקהמשטרה מפזרת חסידי ויזניץ בבני ברק
    A mass Haredi gathering in Bnei Brak after the lockdown took effect is shut down by police
    (Photo: Habnei Brakim)
    Many among the organizers of the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations have called on demonstrations to be temporarily suspended while daily new cases of COVID-19 continue to rise. Plenty of the protesters agree, but not all. Thus far, the zealots have come out ahead.
    In both the Haredi camp and among the secular protesters, extremism rules.
    Contagion in the ultra-Orthodox community is terribly high and the result of rampant disregard of health measures.
    And the same lack of compliance can also be found among protesters gathering outside Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem, despite organizers consistently warning people to maintain social distancing and wear masks.
    When attending Yom Kippur services, I saw that most people were following health directives, but there also some that did not, failing to uphold social distancing and standing happily in crowds.
    Simple common sense dictates that when people are congregated in close proximity, the virus can spread.
    עמותים בבלפורעמותים בבלפור
    Demonstrators clash with police outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence
    (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky )
    But the radicals in both camps have the upper hand and Netanyahu's determination to stop the demonstrations against him rather than the spread of coronavirus is certainly shameful.
    The same goes for his decision to impose a full nationwide lockdown when his experts counseled him against it.
    We have a prime minister who is concerned only with himself and not with the rest of us, but that is no justification for demonstrations to continue.
    In fact, the continuation of the protests only benefits the opposing political camp, which has gained power in the polls since the protests began.
    It is possible that a different approach might be called for, given that the demonstrations have not succeeded in ousting Netanyahu. The claim that demonstrations are the backbone of democracy is debunked by their inability to force change.
    הפגנה נגד החוק להגבלת ההפגנותהפגנה נגד החוק להגבלת ההפגנות
    A protester is arrested outside the Knesset in Jerusalem as MKs debate a crackdown on demonstrations
    (Photo: Shalev Shalom)
    The protester I ran into on Saturday in Tel Aviv, along with many others, are the majority who are truly suffering as a result of the coronavirus crisis. They are patriots and right to call out the government and highlight the dangers we are all facing.
    But there is a bigger risk in allowing those most radical among the protesting public to mirror the Haredi disregard of health measures. For that has only led to the legislation banning demonstrations - and how is that helpful for the cause?

    First published: 23:33 , 09.29.20
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