As the number of protestors in Israel continues to grow, so does the possibility of another round of elections.
Demonstrators are protesting against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption charges, and they are claiming Netanyahu’s government mishandled the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout.
Meanwhile, the latest survey of Israelis shows that one, a majority of voters support the protestors and two, they categorically do not want another election this year.
The last election was held in March – the third inconclusive election within a year. Yet, after the regular Sunday cabinet meeting was canceled Aug. 9, there was more speculation that a fourth election would be held in November.
According to the unity government agreement signed in May, the current law states that if the Israeli government fails to pass a new budget by Aug. 25, the Knesset would dissolve, leading to another round of elections. However, there has been a last-minute attempt to delay that deadline. On Wednesday, the Knesset had a preliminary vote to push the deadline forward by 100 days. The bill must still pass three more readings to become law.
However, the results of the latest monthly survey conducted by the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at the Israel Democracy Institute were unmistakable. Only 28 percent of Israeli voters support holding another round of elections this year, while 58 percent of Israelis said they identify with protests against the government’s economic policy and 45 percent say they oppose Netanyahu, who is fighting charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes.
The IDI survey also indicated that 54 percent of the public is pessimistic about the future of democracy in their country, nearly 20 percent higher than their national security concerns.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have been regularly protesting outside the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem for weeks, while smaller groups continue to protest outside Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, in Tel Aviv and at dozens of other locations around the country. At the same time, Israelis living outside the country have begun to protest against Netanyahu over the corruption charges against him, as well as his government’s perceived failure to handle the coronavirus crisis.
In the United States, protests by Israeli expats have been held in Boston, Washington, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami, while Israeli expats also protested in London, Basel, Toronto and Sydney.
“Israel has a long history of protests,” said Tal Grinfas-David, former principal of The Epstein School and now day school education specialist at the Center for Israel Education in Atlanta. “Some have been more successful than others. I view protests as a natural part of democracy. This is one way to guarantee freedom of expression and to express the will of the people and hold the government accountable.”
The current expanding protests are dramatically different from previous protests, she told the AJT. She pointed to the successful “Four Mothers” protest, which convinced the Israeli government to pull the last remaining soldiers out of Lebanon in 2000, and the protest after the Yom Kippur War, which convinced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign.
Those protests, like many others, were composed of unifying messages. Also, in the 2011 social justice protests that brought half a million Israelis to the streets, the complaints focused on the inability of young people to support themselves and the inequities in the economy.
Similarly, in September 1982, 400,000 Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv to protest in the wake of the massacre in the Israeli-controlled Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut at the hands of the Lebanese Christian Phalangist militia. The protests led to the establishment of the Kahan Commission, which asserted that Israel was indirectly responsible for the massacre and recommended that then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon resign. [He gave up that post but stayed in the government.]
The current protests are perhaps unique in their diffuse complaints, said Grinfas-David. “Some are protesting corruption, some the economy and some the handling of the pandemic,” she said.
According to former Atlantan Benji Lovitt, people are just sick of a government that he says is out of touch with the people. “The social contract is that we pay high taxes and serve in the army and, in exchange, the government will take care of us and it’s not happening,” said Lovitt, a Texas native who lived in Atlanta from 1999 to 2003. During his time in Atlanta, Lovitt worked at the Israeli consulate for a year. He made aliyah in 2006 and is currently living in Jaffa.
Although he hasn’t joined the protests in Jerusalem, Lovitt said he attended one in Charles Clore Park in Tel Aviv. “It doesn’t seem to be as big as the 2011 protests, but then people were putting up tents in the streets and you could measure” how much space they were filling. “There are no tents now.” The stand-up comedian contends that “it’s hard to know” what will happen as a result of the protests.
“Sometimes changes aren’t immediate,” Grinfas-David said, “but the protests can change public opinion perception.” Observing from afar, she said that the protestors are asserting that there’s been an erosion of Democratic norms. “That’s what these protests are about. The people don’t trust that the government is there to serve the state.”