The deafening noise of the protesters’ horns disturbs the peace of the royal family residing in the Balfour Street palace. It resonates throughout the country, over its bridges and streets, as the most Israeli of melodies rings out: “Bibi go home”, “Bibi resign”, “Bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” While the demonstrations at Balfour seem to have no leaders, there are certainly speakers who know how to show up and be interviewed by every possible media outlet. You can easily identify three prominent names: Moshe Ya’alon, Yair Lapid and Ofer Shelach. It is not clear who adopted whom, but what is clear is that they speak with one voice and with a simple and catchy demand: Bibi is charged with a crime, so he is not qualified to run the country and must resign.
This demand is clear, justified, and even self-evident. You do what you demand of others. What Bibi demanded of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to resign when indicted, he must do himself. But the difference between Bibi and Olmert is stark. Not necessarily in terms of the corrupt nature of the two, but in the nature of the party they lead and the character of their partners. As soon as Olmert was indicted, the Labor Party withdrew from the government and Tzipi Livni acted immediately to replace him. Today the situation is completely different. Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox partners swore allegiance to him, walking with him through fire and water, and within the Likud not a single competitor has survived. Anyone who looks like a candidate to replace him is simply eliminated, and the security ring around Bibi, comprised of people like Miki Zohar, Miri Regev, Dudi Amsalem, Shlomo Qarai, Osnat Mark and Amir Ohana, seems impregnable.
In light of this complicated situation, the protesters at Balfour are repeatedly asked how they want to eliminate Bibi – in a fourth round of elections? The kneejerk answer of the opposition speakers is no! Elections during a pandemic are dangerous, and the people of Israel will not agree to them. Okay, we understand, so how will you eliminate him? The answer goes something like: “What, aren’t there other people in the Likud? Is there no candidate other than Bibi?” And from this one can deduce how the tactic works. We will not replace Bibi through elections (because we will lose again), but will surround the Balfour fortress for six days, and on the seventh day we will blow our horns until Balfour falls on Bibi’s head. In short, the Balfour demonstrations come to replace the indecent need for elections, which are much ado about nothing. In any case, it always ends in a mock draw, because the votes of the Arabs are not counted, and Bibi is thus guaranteed a majority.
Therefore, since the God of justice has commanded and the conscience of the nation is binding, we will encircle the fortress at Balfour not six but infinite times, until the traitorous Likud member is found who dares to challenge Bibi. After all, it is not possible that there are no traitors among them, since “our” camp is full of traitors, headed by Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi, together with Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli. The hot name in the Likud is without a doubt Gideon Sa’ar. He is eloquent, looks not bad, and most importantly, he is married to journalist Geula Even, who is supposed to replace Bibi’s wife Sara, the witch of Balfour. Their little child David is also very unlike Bibi’s son, the villainous Yair. Then one can imagine a new, attractive, Bibi-free government which includes, in addition to Sa’ar, Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Avigdor Lieberman and the on-call general, Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon.
Still, why frame this spontaneous protest in its narrow political realm? The thousands of young men and women who nightly congregate, with a variety of handmade signs, create a sense of spontaneity, that something is finally moving. So far these young people had stayed away from politics as if it were a plague, and when the COVID-19 pandemic mercilessly hit them, they discovered how much politics matters, how essential the state is in days when there is no livelihood and when the future has collapsed before their eyes. They had not previously been interested in Bibi and his legal cases, taking the “live and let live” approach, saying each one should take care of his own home, until the crisis came and destroyed their homes. They did not indulge in cigars and champagne, they served in the army, worked casual jobs without social benefits, learned to survive in the capitalist jungle devotedly led by Netanyahu, and now they are shouting for help.
Not only young people are coming, for this is a festival of openness and democracy. Everyone and his flag – a national flag, red flag, green flag or black flag. You can say “occupation”, you can shout social justice, you can demand environmental justice, you can wave a “justice for Iyad Halak” sign, everything is allowed as long as the protest focuses on one goal: to get rid of Bibi. And what next? This is apparently less important. It is why the protest falls into the hands of Yair Lapid like ripe fruit, as did the 2011 social protests. The difference? That protest was authentic, led by young people who came out against the economic system and against the tycoons. The protests attracted the masses and there was less patriotism, but they did not call for Bibi’s dismissal and were not political, which led to their ultimate failure. Lapid took these votes directly into a coalition with Netanyahu’s party. This time, the Balfour protesters are shouting that the demonstration is political!!! And it is indeed political, but the question is what politics? Politics that reconciles agendas like those of Sa’ar, Ya’alon, Lapid, Bennett and Lieberman, and with only one condition – not Bibi.
Across the ocean, Netanyahu’s friend and ally, Donald Trump, is also facing a popular protest movement. Like Bibi, he plays on factions and incitement against minorities. He fuels his base by denying the pandemic and encouraging the bearing of arms in the name of law and order. The US protest movement does demand the overthrow of Trump, and it has worked toward this goal with all its energies from the day Trump was elected, but its way is clear. Its way is elections, in stark contrast to the Israeli opposition, and it unites around one candidate, Joe Biden. The left, led by Bernie Sanders, as well as the center, are imbued with one goal, to remove the fascist from power. The main slogan of the protest movement, which the entire Democratic Party and most of the American public adopt, is Black Lives Matter, and to fulfill the demands of the protest, Joe Biden undertook to choose as his vice president a woman, who will probably be black.
Long live the difference. Two protests have erupted in the wake of the pandemic, one uniting around a leader with a clear agenda, the other without a leader and presenting such a vague political alternative that it could easily slide into nationalism, conservatism, and racism. The Israeli protest is “clean” of Palestinians, and hoists the national flag. In the US, whites and blacks kneel while the flag is raised and play the anthem in protest against Trump’s calling them unpatriotic bastards, while in Israel demonstrators exhibit passionate patriotism to prove to the right that there are no leftists among them, and that the homeland is more important to them than Bibi’s Israel. What can possibly come out of this? From the depths of the political, economic and social crisis that the United States is undergoing, the demonstrators are leading an amazing protest that overshadows the pale protest in Israel. The whole purpose of demonstrations in Israel is to overthrow Bibi without building a social, economic and political alternative.
What is needed today is not a mad dash into the open arms of the right-wing racist opposition, but to develop a wide-ranging discourse around the fateful questions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic: In what kind of society do we want to live? In what kind of economy? What is the future of relations between us and the Palestinians, and what is the place of Arab society in Israeli politics? Will we continue to ignore the occupation and the fate of five million Palestinians who have been living under the Israeli boot for 53 years? Do the flag and the law of the nation express the values on which democracy, peace and equality are based? These are some of the questions that were not asked in the 2011 social protests, and it seems that the current “political” protest is escaping from them as from wildfire. If the protest continues to wrap itself in black and Israeli flags, it will not grow into a real alternative to Netanyahu.