The Protest Movement in Israel

In recent years, many have depicted the Israeli public as politically apathetic, as dormant. And in some way that was correct. Much to our chagrin and concern, Israelis have not been turning out in droves to protest the Occupation and its woes. But the public protest of the past ten weeks in Israel proves that political indifference does not characterize current Israeli society.

For the past ten weeks, large segments of the Israeli public have protested in the streets against the anti-democratic policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s extremist, ultra-nationalist government. For ten weeks, both on Saturday night and on weekdays, hundreds of thousands have turned out to protest, often clashing with police forces. Members of Netanyahu’s cabinet assumed that the protest would subside just as it had erupted, but the opposite happened.

On recent Saturday nights, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem Haifa and other towns, the overall number of demonstrators reached 400,000 or 500,000. If the same proportion of Americans took to the street to demonstrate, there would be almost 18 million people protesting in US cities. According to some estimates, 20% of Israelis have participated in some act of protest against their government’s legislative coup in the past three months. This coming Saturday, protest action is planned in 170 sites across Israel.

And it is not just the numbers that are growing. It is also the nature of the movement which is escalating. What started as sporadic demonstrations has now become a coordinated effort by numerous organizations and activists. It is gradually evolving from street protests to a civil disobedience effort, which includes Israeli society sectors that have never in the past united for public action. Not only university professors and school teachers, but also medical professionals and even members of the security establishment are now part of the civil disobedience movement.

Senior reserve officers in select units – Navy SEALs, fighter pilots, military intelligence specialists – have announced that they will stop showing up for reserve duty if the “judicial reform” sails through. Netanyahu and his political allies continue to call opponents of their legislative blitz “anarchists,” but many of the most prominent activists of the movement cannot be more identified with Israel’s establishment.

As an organization that advocates for Israeli Palestinian peace, we would like to see our agenda more prominently featured by demonstrators, but we believe that progressive Israelis are increasingly realizing that a liberal democracy requires an end to the Occupation and a peace settlement with the Palestinians.

When demonstrators in Tel Aviv were brutalized by police last week, tens of thousands of them chanted at the police officers, “Where were you in Huwara?”

Signs saying “there is no democracy with Occupation” are proliferating among demonstrators. Increasingly, speakers in these pro-democracy rallies are stating that you cannot expect the norms of Israel’s military rule in the West Bank to stay in the West Bank, to stop at the Green Line and to not impact Israel-proper.