In Tel Aviv, a huge crowd boos Netanyahu and “the facists”

A few tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated on Saturday evening in Tel Aviv to proclaim their rejection of the policy of the ruling coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu, of which they fear an anti-democratic drift.

It is the largest demonstration since the December 29 swearing-in of the government combining right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, the most right-wing in the country’s history by just over of 9 million inhabitants.

At around 9:00 p.m. (7:00 p.m. GMT), Habima Square in central Tel Aviv was full and crowds spilled into the adjacent streets. According to police estimates, quoted by public radio, 20,000 demonstrators gathered there. The organizers spoke of “several tens of thousands”.

Smaller rallies were held simultaneously in Jerusalem, where around 1,000 protesters gathered outside Netanyahu’s residence according to local media, and Haifa, the major city in the north of the country.

The demonstrators are gathered at the call of an anti-corruption organization, around slogans calling for “saving democracy” and preventing “the overthrow of the political regime” in force in Israel since its creation in 1948.

– “Government of shame” –

Demonstration in Tel Aviv against the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, January 14, 2023 (AFP – JACK GUEZ)

Center and left-wing parties and the Hadash-Taal alliance of Arab parties have called on Israelis to demonstrate, in particular against the justice reform presented on January 4 by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, prosecuted in several corruption cases presumed.

They also demand the resignation of the head of government because of these affairs. To this are added other dissatisfied people: opponents of Israeli colonization in the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory, or LGBTQ defense movements worried about the presence in government of openly homophobic ministers.

On Habima Square, the atmosphere was good-natured. Many Israelis came with their families despite the rain and the demonstrators chanted their slogans under a sea of ​​umbrellas, noted an AFP journalist.

The signs held up by the demonstrators reflected the diversity of demands: “The time has come to bring down the dictator”, “Government of shame”, “There is no democracy with the occupation”, “Bibi doesn’t want democracy, we don’t need fascists in the Knesset”, “You shall love the other as yourself” written in Hebrew and Arabic.

But it was the slogan “Democracy, democracy” that came up most often.

In the absence of an official written constitution, the judiciary in Israel is the only one capable of controlling the government and safeguarding individual rights.

Critics of the judicial reform believe it would grant unlimited control to the prime minister, endangering Israeli democracy as it has existed since 1948. They say they fear a drift towards illiberal democracy.

– “Preserving democracy” –

Demonstration in Tel Aviv against the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, January 14, 2023 (AFP - AHMAD GHARABLI)
Demonstration in Tel Aviv against the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, January 14, 2023 (AFP – AHMAD GHARABLI)

From July 2020 to June 2021, the Black Flag Movement had supported a long-running protest campaign against Mr. Netanyahu to demand his resignation over the corruption scandals in which he is embroiled.

Leader of the Likud, the great party of the Israeli right, and holder of the record for longevity at the head of the Israeli government, Mr. Netanyahu was ousted from power in 2021 by a motley electoral coalition which lasted less than a year.

At the end of December, he took the helm of a new government following the legislative elections in November, the fifth in four years, the results of which bear witness to the fragmentation of the electorate and the internal divisions of society.

Among the speakers to address the demonstrators in Habima Square is former Defense Minister Benny Gantz (centre-right) who on Friday called on Twitter “all the Israeli people of left and right to come and demonstrate for the preservation of Israeli democracy”.

“It is a civic duty of the first order.”

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