On day 2 of Jerusalem protests, speaker suggests MKs quit if they want time off

Mother of soldier serving in Gaza alleges leaders ‘willing to bury him, just for their own interests’; grandson of elderly hostage: ‘He’s the one guiding me in this disaster’

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Anti-government protesters wave flags at a four-day sit-in near the Knesset in Jerusalem on April 1, 2024 (Menahem Kahana / AFP)
Anti-government protesters wave flags at a four-day sit-in near the Knesset in Jerusalem on April 1, 2024 (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

The second day of a planned four-day demonstration outside the Israeli parliament saw a few thousand people once again gather on Jerusalem’s Kaplan Street, just below the Knesset and other government buildings to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, as well as the return of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

Monday’s rally was far smaller than Sunday’s initial protest, which saw tens of thousands rally against the country’s current leadership, in the largest such demonstration since the start of the war in Gaza.

The protest, spearheaded by a coalition of anti-government protest movements, including the Kaplan Force and Brothers in Arms, comes ahead of the Knesset going on a six-week holiday break that has sparked controversy, coming as the war continues and as some 130 hostages remain held in the Strip.

“Dear Knesset members, if you want a vacation, quit,” said Noga Friedman, one of Monday night’s speakers, whose husband Iddo Rosenthal died defending Kibbutz Alumim during Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel that sparked the conflict.

Many of those in attendance wore T-shirts calling for Netanyahu to take responsibility for October 7 and “go home.”

As protestors walked toward the Knesset, they passed stands set up by many ad-hoc groups that have come together in the last year, both as part of the 2023 protests against the government’s judicial overhaul plan and after the Hamas attacks of October 7.

Veterans of the Yom Kippur War, standing atop two tank mock-ups, shouted into loudspeakers of the need for a new government. Just beyond them was a fenced-in tent compound set up by protestors, many with the now-familiar posters of hostages taped to their exteriors.

Tents set up on Jerusalem’s Kaplan Street during four-day demonstration (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

One hostage relative, Mai Albini Peri, grandson of hostage Chaim Peri, and a familiar figure at rallies for the hostages, spoke of being raised in the country’s center, but spending much of his childhood at Kibbutz Nir Oz with his grandfather, a man who took his civic responsibilities seriously.

“This isn’t my first or last protest but I always enjoyed the ones I attended with my grandfather,” said Albini Peri. “With him in captivity, I feel responsible to carry his burden. He’s the one guiding me in this disaster.”

This government will not fix that which needs fixing, Albini Peri argued.

“We demand a deal now, but there won’t be one so long as this government finds it more important to kill Arabs than to save Jews,” he said. “A deal now is elections now.”

Some speakers called for a national vote to be held in early 2025, while others said it had to happen much sooner.

Protestors gather on Jerusalem’s Kaplan Street to call for new elections in second of four-day demonstrations (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“It’ll take years to fix what Netanyahu did over 16 years,” said Moran Zer Katzenstein, the activist behind the protest group (Women) Building an Alternative.

“We ask Knesset members to join us. [Benny] Gantz and [Gadi] Eisenkot, drive away this government! Join us now,” she said, addressing leaders of the National Unity party who opposed the Netanyahu-led government but joined it in an emergency capacity for the war.

Yair Golan, a former Meretz MK who is running to head up the Labor party and a former deputy IDF chief of staff who has been praised for his independent efforts to save civilians on October 7, was the first official speaker Monday night, telling the gathered crowds: “We could have had the hostages home in a process of renewal, with another government, thrown the judicial reform into the garbage, had a defense budget that makes sense. But instead, we’re stuck with the Netanyahu-Gantz government.”

He promised to bring about change if elected to parliament.

Rotem Sivan, a doctor and mother of three with a son who is a combat soldier in Gaza, told the crowd, “The life of my son doesn’t interest the leadership.”

“The leadership is willing to bury him, just for their own interests,” said Sivan, who has another son whose gap year program is about to be cut short so that he can be conscripted into the army due to manpower shortages.

She urged Israelis to show the strength they’d discovered since October 7, and especially the mothers, “because mothers have no choice but to protect their kids at any cost.”

Protestors gather on Jerusalem’s Kaplan Street to call for new elections in second of four-day demonstrations (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

After the speakers left the stage, a band came on for a set, and was followed by a screening of the 2002 film, “Bringing Down a Dictator.”

Tuesday’s speakers will be dedicated to the issue of the hostages, led by Einav Zangauker, mother of hostage Matan Zangauker, as well as the parents of hostage Nimrod Cohen, and former prime minister Ehud Barak.

Merav Swirsky, whose parents were killed on October 7 in Kibbutz Be’eri and whose brother, Itay Swirsky, was taken hostage and killed in captivity, is also slated to speak, along with several other activists and army reservists.

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