For the first time in the history of Israeli politics, the opposition was established even before the government was sworn in.
Israel has seen larger demonstrations than the mass protest Saturday night outside Tel Aviv Museum. But historians of social protest in Israel will find it hard to recall a demonstration so large, held so soon after such a closely fought election.
The Blue and White party went out on Saturday night to make good on the first promise it issued after the election results became clear on April 10. It took charge of a rather curious opposition that extends across the political spectrum, from Ayman Odeh (Hadash-Ta’al), via Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Avi Gabbay (Labor), all the way to Yoaz Hendel and Moshe Ya’alon (Blue and White).
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, the former IDF chief of staff, probably would have felt far more at ease at the Defense Ministry headquarters across the street. it will take him some time to get used to his new role as head of the opposition — a job that is not really tailored to his specifications — but he appears to be learning fast. He acted wisely for example when, on Saturday afternoon, he implored Odeh to join the roster of speakers.
It was slightly bizarre to watch Odeh speak from beneath a huge banner emblazoned with the security minded wording “A defensive shield for democracy” — the slogan of this new campaign.
Odeh certainly doesn’t need military metaphors and said simply, “I am here today because I believe that Arab Jewish partnership is the only way for hope and change in the country and the state. I firmly believe in the assertion that we Arab citizens cannot do it alone, but that without us it is impossible.”
Thousands applauded him. Many of them were wearing red Turkish-style fez headgear, with its echoes of that country’s increasingly dictatorial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The fez, with the Turkish overtones, is apparently going to become the symbol of the new protest movement.
“We won’t let the State of Israel become the private estate of some royal family or sultanate,” vowed Gantz.
“We won’t let you become Erdogan. We won’t have a Turkish dictator here,” said his party’s No. 2, Yair Lapid.
“Instead of liberal democracy, seeking peace and rights, we will get a religious, messianic, Erdoganian dictatorship that… tramples our rights,” said Meretz’s Zandberg.
Will this strange opposition cocktail — featuring a centrist, security minded party with excellent organizational skills and an affection for military slogans; two small left-wing Jewish parties suffering from leadership crises, and an Arab party not entirely certain how it should act in these circumstances — be able to lead a popular protest movement that will draw support from beyond the triangle bordered by Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv Museum and Rabin Square? It’s hard to tell.
But shortly before the crowd pulled itself to attention and started to sing “Hatikva,” Gantz returned to the microphone and promised that this demonstration was only the first stop on a campaign of opposition awakening.
Leaving the rally, this reporter failed to spot any of the foolish signs, with the ill-conceived slogans, for which every demonstration organizer is required to apologize on the current affairs programs on the morning after. Presumably, the prime minister, at his residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem, will have been scanning the pictures as well, and will come up with something.
This article originally appeared on The Times of Israel’s Hebrew site Zman.