Protest leaders: He wants to discredit the democratic public

Preaching unity, Netanyahu slams ‘loud, sometimes violent’ anti-government protesters

At memorial event for Altalena Affair, PM accuses demonstrators with ‘unimaginable amounts of money’ of not supporting the IDF or the fight against Israel’s enemies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony for the victims of the 1948 Altalena incident, at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv. June 18, 2024. (Shaul Golan/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony for the victims of the 1948 Altalena incident, at Nachalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv. June 18, 2024. (Shaul Golan/Pool/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed at a memorial ceremony for the 1948 Altalena Affair on Tuesday that despite the divisive actions of an “extreme” and “sometimes violent” group of people, Israel would never allow itself to descend into civil war.

Speaking at the Nahalat Yitzhak Cemetery in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu drew a parallel between the anti-government protests raging across Israel for the third consecutive day and the violent confrontation in the early days of the State of Israel between the then-newly formed Israel Defense Forces and the Irgun paramilitary group, which left 16 dead and dozens more wounded.

“There must never be a civil war. It’s a resounding cross-generational message. I hope it also crosses this grass, which separates us from those who are currently shouting,” Netanyahu said, referring to the protesters outside the ceremony. “I want to believe that the lessons of Altalena have been internalized, adopted. Division is weakness, unity is a condition for weakness.”

“There will be no civil war,” he vowed again. “It’s true that there is an extreme, vocal minority, who are sometimes, unfortunately, violent, who are financed with unimaginable amounts of money, but they do not represent the majority of the people. The majority of people back our troops, who want and are working toward victory over our enemies.”

His comments drew outrage from political rivals and protesters alike, who had gathered across from the cemetery after finding out shortly before the ceremony was due to begin that the prime minister would be in attendance.

“Netanyahu, who spreads conspiracy theories about heroic IDF soldiers as if they were traitors, is now trying to discredit the incredible democratic public in Israel,” the protest movement said, urging people to go out and protest “in order to save Israel” from his leadership.

Ahead of Netanyahu’s speech, shouts of “You’re in charge, you’re responsible!” could be heard from outside the boundaries of the cemetery as protesters called for him to take responsibility for the failures that led to the October 7 Hamas massacre, in which some 1,200 people were killed and 251 were taken hostage.

People protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, outside a ceremony in Tel Aviv, on June 18, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

National Unity chair Benny Gantz, who resigned from the emergency coalition last Sunday, slammed Netanyahu for suggesting that anti-government protesters are intrinsically opposed to the war effort as Israel fights Hamas in Gaza, and warned that “a demonstration against the government is not a demonstration against IDF soldiers.”

“An absolute majority among the protesters support our troops, similar to the large majority across all segments of Israeli society,” he fumed, recalling the contentious Haredi conscription legislation currently being pushed through by the government. “Unlike those you dismiss from the need to serve the country in its hour of need, some of the protesters are soldiers themselves.”

Channel 12 reported that one protester had been arrested outside of the cemetery after straying from the pre-approved boundaries of the protest and approaching Netanyahu’s convoy.

In addition to those demonstrating outside the cemetery, protests demanding Netanyahu’s resignation, the dissolution of the government and the return of the 116 hostages believed to still be held in Gaza continued in full force across Israel throughout Tuesday afternoon and into the evening, when crowds swelled at the main rally in Jerusalem.

At the end of an anti-government rally in Jerusalem, right-wing activists try to provoke the protestors with a banner reading: ‘Leftist traitors.’ (Danor Aharon/Pro-Democracy Protest Movement)

Outside the Knesset for the second night in a row, thousands of protesters listened to former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, who decried Netanyahu and his government for lacking clear goals in the war in Gaza and failing to plan for the day after.

“Since the founding of this government, the security situation has worsened, our economy has declined,” Yaalon said. “We are the majority and this is why [the members of the government] worry about elections. We are demanding elections, now!”

As the protest drew to a close, right-wing agitators were seen holding signs emblazoned with the phrase “leftist traitors.”

Charlie Summers contributed to this report.

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