The demonstrations began as a protest campaign outside Mandelblit’s home. The protestors argued he wasn’t doing his job when it came to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and to governmental corruption in general.
More than eight months have passed, and the world has turned upside down in some sense. Now the police, in coordination with the State Attorney’s Office, are describing Netanyahu as a suspect. It seems Mandelblit will soon be able to come out of his apartment and join the protestors. It’s not unlikely they would applaud him. On Saturday evening, the protestors spoke less and less about Mandelblit and more and more about Netanyahu.
The Likud leadership, on the other hand, realized the Saturday protests in Petah Tikva are no longer an unimportant episode, and a counter-protest must be staged. Coalition Chairman David Bitan called on the ministers, on the Knesset members and on their assistants to come to Petah Tikva on Saturday evening, and showed up there himself. The result, so far, was pathetic. Likud is capable of much, much more than that.
The people were not there, neither on the one side of the square nor on the other side. Not yet.
Between 2,000 to 3,000 people arrived at the oppositional side of the square. The increase in the number of protestors can be attributed to the numerous reports last week about the corruption cases involving Netanyahu, as well as, perhaps, the reports on Likud’s counter-protest.
In the audience, I noticed about 10 young people from the New Likudniks group, wearing white T-shirts with the following caption in blue: “Likud—saying no to corruption.” One of them, Yaron Ben-Nun, the son of Major-General (res.) Avihu Ben-Nun, got on the stage against the backdrop of a large sign reading “Corruption.”
“I want to say hello to all my Likudnik brothers who have come here. David Bitan, did you bring Avi Fahima, the electrician who works on Yom Kippur? Did you bring Nathan Eshel? Ari Harrow? Ezra Seidoff, are you there? Shlomo Filber? They’re all loyal Likudniks. Loyal to who, to Likud? Don’t make me laugh, gentlemen. They’re opportunists.”
The audience booed at every name mentioned. “Hon, shilton, olam tachton” (capital, government, the underworld), they chanted. At the end of his speech, people approached and thanked him excitedly. On the other side of the square, only the applause could be heard.
By 9pm, there were only 200 people at the Likud protest. One of the reasons was the Shabbat ending time. The religious people arrived at 9:30pm, after the protest on the other side had already ended. Children arrived wrapped in a flag of Israel. “Leftists, go home,” the man in charge of the microphone shouted at the sight of the emptying square. “Only Likud,” he added.
The signs were prepared in advance. There was a professional hand involved in their wording and design. The messages pointed to the defense line taking shape against the anti-corruption campaign. First of all, it’s the Left; second, it’s a putsch, a coup attempt; third, it’s hypocrisy. We’ve had enough of hypocrites. Netanyahu was mentioned in one sign: “Loving Netanyahu, protecting democracy.”
After quite a few protests in which the Left accused Likud of destroying democracy, it suddenly turns out that democracy is Likud’s heart’s desire.
“Why all this hatred?” asked Kobi, a contractor from Petah Tikva and an ardent Likud supporter. “We have had enough of hatred.” He meant every word he said. But when one of the protestors crossed the road from the other side, he was driven away with shouting.