After 20-week Campaign, Israel’s Pro-democracy Protest Regroups for War of Attrition

T. Belman.  I fail to see how they are better off with a “war of attrition”. The government passed the budget in less than 4 weeks. It can pass the judicial reform in the same time period, particularly if they include it all in one bill.

The protestors  don’t want a Jewish state, They want  “liberal democracy” i.e., a state of all its citizens. With the changing demographics, the only way they can get what they want is to prevent Judicial reform. But the battle is over what kind of state do we end up with.

The protest movement against the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul is switching from ‘days of disruption’ and blocking intersections to a state of vigilance that some are calling the ‘war between wars’

By Bar Peleg, HAARETZ

It’s 10 P.M. Saturday and traffic on the Ayalon Highway is flowing. A few weeks ago, that was unimaginable. Saturday nights were given over to gridlock – human, not vehicular. The mass demonstrations forced drivers to reconsider their planes or find a different route. It has been different for a month, and not only due to the break in protests caused by the latest military operation in Gaza.

Perhaps the Knesset recess that began in early April, combined with the pause of the judicial overhaul legislation announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the negotiations at the President’s Residence did not knock out the protesters, but it did relax them. Instead of the thousands walking on the highway, sometimes with pyrotechnics that have become the symbol of the resistance to the government coup, there are single-file incursions that end quickly, and not only because the police now know the gaps by which protesters reach the road.

The change has also come from the top. The grassroots groups have stopped the post-rally processions and the organizers have switched gears: no more “days of disruption,” performance art and the blocking of intersections, but rather a state of vigilance. Some would call it the “war between wars.” A time of pinpoint operations, targeted attacks on bills, keeping up the pressure.

‘Secular Israelis are mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore’

Now, with the protest at 20 weeks, its power is not limited to the number of demonstrators. It has a curriculum vitae, the collective memory of protesters and politicians alike. From the social unrest, through the dozens of arrests in myriad actions, the economic pressure, the threat to refuse to report for reserve duty, to the (temporary) image of victory when protesters occupied the Ayalon after Netanyahu announced he was sacking Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. The message of resistance has seeped deep into Israeli awareness. Protest headquarters drove it home in March, drawing new demonstrators into the streets. They acquired expertise in blocking roads or, in the case of Vice Admiral (res.) David Saar Salama, former commander of the Israel Navy, in blocking the routes of cargo ships in Haifa Port. It’s seen not a revolt against the state, but as a war for it and its character.

Aviv Messinger, a reserve officer in an elite air force unit, explains: “All red lines have been crossed, and the state’s social contract with citizens has been broken.” His activist career began at the Balfour protests in Jerusalem. Now he is a leader of one of the reservist protest groups, whose members include veterans of Shaldag and other elite units. They serve as a sort of special operations force, carrying out complex missions together with Ahim Leneshek (“brothers in arms”). A partial list: The Bnei Brak protest in front of Ponovezh Yeshiva, hanging giant signs by rappelling and “infiltrating” National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s neighborhood. “Either we fight, or we leave the country,” Messinger says, “and since we want to stay, the only option is to fight.”

This isn’t a blitzkrieg, it’s a prolonged campaign, so there are periods of regrouping. Or as a member of protest headquarters said, “Even if numbers in [the weekly protests at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street] have changed, there are more fighters for liberal democracy we’ll be able to deploy when needed, and they’ll answer the call and know what’s expected of them.”

And what about the near future? Ilan Shiloach, a high-tech investor and entrepreneur who is active in protest headquarters, explained recently on Twitter that the protest will turn from an all-out war to a fight against “dictatorial terrorism” of private member’s bills alongside the compromise talks. The coalition’s goal, he says, is to weaken the protest and put it to sleep. Therefore protesters need to be on high alert, ready to thwart each bill as it comes without setting the streets ablaze as in March.

One such action was national equality day, this month. Compared to other disruption days, it was somewhat poor in participants and energy, but according to Shiloach it took the bill to exempt Haredim from the draft off the table. “The fact that the media and the coalition of draft dodgers scream that fewer protesters showed up proves that they measure success by total war metrics, and not as we measure it.”

Low flame

Alongside the cautious optimism, members of protest headquarters have their share of fears, many having to do with government actions designed to quiet the protest. A few point to a report in Haaretz this week according to which the coalition will try to delay legislation as long as possible so as not to revive the protest. “The protests have created a balance of terror against the government. It’s not for nothing we hear ministers talking like this,” says Jonathan Levy, a political science doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics and research fellow at the Molad Center and the Berl Katzenelson Fund. Some protest organizers fear that this delay is on borrowed time. “We’ve weathered the Hungarian blitz,” one activist told Haaretz, “now we fear the Polish salami.”

Poland, where masses initially protested against the government’s moves, is mentioned often for a reason. After two weeks of mass protests the Polish government seemed to relent, only to resume the legislation in a massive way months later, when winter impeded demonstrations.

One way to keep the protest fires going is with WhatsApp groups used to mobilize demonstrators and disrupt the public appearances of coalition ministers and senior figures.

Their use is only increasing. Before every special operation, Brothers in Arms opens a group for it, and only members learn the location. “The existing infrastructure has enabled us to ‘jump a grade,” a source at the protest headquarters tells Haaretz. “But today it’s a totally different scale. It’s like advancing from a local league to the Champions League.” Now the goal is to avoid relegation.

May 25, 2023 | 4 Comments »

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  1. One thing is certain now is that Arab supremacy fails democracy qv: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon; Yemen, Sudan, Algeria and Libya for starters – and the murderous happy hoydens of Gaza, northern Nigeria and Pakistan.

  2. @liz44

    Israel must remain a Jewish State, first and foremost.

    Agree 100% as long as “Jewish” does not mean religious.
    A secular Jew who is willing to contribute to and to defend his country, is 1000 times better than the Ultraorthodox Heredi who refuses to serve in the military and who lives as a parasite exploiting the taxes of the productive taxpayers.

  3. The problem is always the same, confusing nationality with religion.
    And another sort of confusion is equating the nationality with the citizenship.
    We Jews are a nation; a Jewish state makes perfect sense.
    A Jewish state is the national state of Jewish people. Like all civilized nations, we welcome guests, as long as they behave graciously. But the guests who behave as if they were the hosts should be shown the door.

    Also, like other civilized nations, we have mechanisms for absorbing people into our nation. I remember reading somewhere in Torah that Moabites could become a part of the Jewish nation after having been loyal citizens for 3 generations. Egyptians for some reason needed to wait 7 generations.
    To me 3 generations sound about right.

    The most important part of being a member of the nation is to stand with that nation in defense of the national state.
    Most Arabs don’t qualify, they don’t even want to serve in the IDF.

    Secondly, while religion and nationality are different things, some religions are not compatible with Jewish nationality. They are Islam and Christianity. Both are anti-Jewish, antisemitic ideologies.
    On the other hand, Atheism, Buddhism, Taoism and Zen are not antisemitic and be allowed.

    The confusion of “Jewish” with “religious” is what creates the opposition of the secular leftist.
    I totally understand this. I, too, oppose the religious control of public life. For example, the ban on public transportation during Shabbat.
    I think we should respect the religious community and avoid driving through their neighborhoods. But we should not allow them to impose their rules on others.
    Likewise with the marriages, it is plainly absurd that Israel recognizes secular marriages from other countries but does not allow them in Israel.

  4. Israel must remain a Jewish State, first and foremost. That is why it was founded. Antisemitism today is at a record high in the West as well as in the Arab world, and Israel must fulfil her mission to be a safe home for Jews. If she does not do this, she becomes just one more conflict-riven country. Israelis, please wake up and see that your existence is in peril now as never before. The liberal-left won’t like it, but they can always take refuge in just about any other Western democracy, whereas Israel as the Jewish State has no equivalent anywhere.