Walking down Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard alongside thousands of people holding signs and chanting against government corruption, Amos Levy tried to explain to his young son, perched on top of his shoulders, why they had left home on a brisk December Saturday night.
“We are here because we love our country,” Levy told 4-year-old Tomer, “and that is why we can’t let corruption continue and why we can’t let our leaders continue to lie to us.”
Slowly bobbing his head to his fathers steps and a nearby drum troupe’s beat leading the crowd in a chant of “corrupt, corrupt, corrupt,” Tomer appeared to be slowly falling asleep. He sleepily responded with a simple, “Okay, dad.”
Sensing that his civics lesson may not have been fully appreciated, Amos tried a different tack. “We are here because we want to make sure that the country we love stays that way, OK?” he told his son.
“Okay, dad,” Tomer repeated.
Tomer was one of hundreds of children who had been brought by their parents to the streets of Tel Aviv for Saturday night’s anti-corruption demonstration, protesting against alleged misuse of power by government officials, amid ongoing graft investigations into Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu is being investigated in a pair of corruption probes, known as cases 1000 and 2000, that involve suspicions he received favors from Israeli businessman in exchange for advancing their business interests. He denies the allegations against him.
Unlike previous rallies, including weekly protests near the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who has been accused of shielding the prime minister and which were often marked by arrests, Saturday night’s action had a more festive and family friendly atmosphere.
The rally opened with a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony and in addition to the gritty chants against Netanyahu, protesters sang songs in unison and some dressed up in comical outfits, including one person who donned a large banana (to represent a banana republic) for the occasion. Police said there were no arrests.
(Other parts were not so family friendly, like a man dressed as a naked Sara Netanyahu and a caricature of Minister Moshe Kahlon flipping the bird.)
The presence of children may have been seen as a sign that the rallies have lost some of their edge, becoming safe or de-rigueur, but for parents there, bringing the kids meant giving their offspring an important lesson about participatory democracy.
“It might seem like a purely political event,” Amos Levy told The Times of Israel as the crowd’s chanting morphed into “Bibi is an embarrassment,” using the prime minister’s nickname.
“But it is also a family event,” he said. “Something I want my son to be part of.”
The protest was held under the banner, “We have come to drive out corruption,” a play on the children’s Hanukkah song called, “We have come to drive out darkness.”
Rachel and Micky Blass, who’s two elementary school children complained that they couldn’t see the menorah being lit over the throng of people in front of them, said they viewed the protest as an educational opportunity.
“We came to show the children how to protest in a democracy. This is a real lesson in democracy, I hope,” Micky said with a smile.
Asked how he explained the allegations of corruption against Netanyahu to his 8- and 10-year olds, Micky responded: “Simply and slowly.”
“Just like with anything in life, you explain things in the simplest way possible so that they don’t get too confused,” he said. “But even at a young age they can understand that when something is wrong, you need to stand up against it.”
While the Levys and the Blasses had walked under 20 minutes from their homes in central and south Tel Aviv respectively, some families attending traveled half way across the country, even making a vacation of the trip, in order to take part.
Maayan (who asked for her surname not to be used), drove three hours from the kibbutz she lives on next to the Sea of Galilee in Israel’s north in order to show her two sons the crowds.
“There is no school tomorrow because its Hanukkah so we decided this morning, yalla, lets go, lets have a holiday,” she said, explaining that she would be staying for the night with her parents who live near Tel Aviv before driving back north on Sunday.
“It’s far but it’s important that they see what is going on in this country. I wanted them to know about this protest. Thousands of people are coming out of their houses to protest and I wanted them to see it and be part of it,” she said, gesturing toward her two sons, both holding signs emblazoned with with the words, “We have had enough corruption.”
Hadar, 11, who declared proudly that he had never seen so many people in one place, said that he was happy his mother has brought him. He said that on the long drive they had talked about why it was important to be there: “We all have to keep rules. One person shouldn’t be above them.”
Maayan insisted that she had tried to tell her children that it was not about Netanyahu or any other leader but rather they were protesting “against corruption, which is always wrong.”
“It’s not about Bibi, it’s about the country. That is the message I am trying to impart to my boys,” she said.
Making the hour-long journey from the town of Zichron Ya’akov, near Haifa, Yariv and Ba’ari Amica brought their daughters Liri, Hallel and sleeping baby Dariyah, ranging in ages from a few months old to 12, to do the same thing.
“What a great way to show them how you can oppose the government, and if you do disagree, to say it out loud, just like this,” beamed Ba’ari.
Yariv admitted, however, that they had feared souring their kids with the protest. “There is a worry that we will show them the problems in the country and they will think that things are just bad here,” he said.
“In the end,” he asserted, “we wanted to show them that if there are things you want to change, you have to speak up. You won’t always succeed but you have to try.”
“That is the lesson, right girls?” he asked his daughters.
“Yes, dad,” Liri and Hallel replied less enthusiastically, as Dariyah continued to sleep in her carrier.