Several thousand Israelis turned out in Tel Aviv on Sunday, spraying foam and confetti and jumping into fountains to celebrate the establishment of a new government in Israel and to revel in the ouster of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Contrasting emotions were seen in Jerusalem at a small demonstration in support of Netanyahu outside his official residence and in prayers by hundreds of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall, where an atmosphere of public mourning held sway.
In Tel Aviv, thousands thronged to Rabin Square. Its iconic fountain, so often a scene of revelry at times of national celebration, had been drained due to the nearby construction of a subway line, but revelers brought along a foam cannon and confetti instead.
Some celebrants headed to the fountain in Dizengoff square for a celebratory splash.
“Bibi, go home,” a man led a chant from the podium in Rabin Square, where anti-Netanyahu demonstrators had been calling for him to step down for more than a year.
VIDEO: Thousands of Israelis flood Tel Aviv to celebrate departure of long-serving PM Benjamin Netanyahu
“Bibi go home”, they sang Sunday night.
A new complicated coalition led by hardliner Naftali Bennett was sworn in Sunday, ending Netanyahu's 12-yr rule, the longest reign pic.twitter.com/8XOpKrvOya
— The Chronicles (@ChroniclesRW) June 13, 2021
Participants danced, hugged and cheered. Many brought their children.
In liberal Tel Aviv, turning the page on the 12-year Netanyahu era is considered a “historic” moment, said Chen Nevo, one of those celebrating.
“I’m a little bit in shock because we waited so long for this moment,” said the 49-year-old, who came to the square with her small children despite the late hour.
“They are supposed to sleep right now, but I thought it was really an important moment.”
“I don’t know if the government will last, but it is a change, and we needed a change,” she said, as a Hebrew rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” blared in the background.
The nearby Tel Aviv City Hall was lit up in the colors of Israel’s flag.
Rubi Sofer, 48, also arrived at the celebration with his family in tow.
The foursome all sported black T-shirts emblazoned with the white letters spelling “Get out,” an expression that has been a feature of the anti-Netanyahu protest movement for over a year.
“We don’t like Bibi at all,” said Sofer, adding that they’ve been attending protests every weekend for 10 months.
Among those who took to the stage to lead celebrations was singer Achinoam Nini, also known professionally as Noa, who drew condemnation from across the political spectrum after she referred to Netanyahu as “Haman,” the villain from the Biblical Book of Esther.
In an apparently improvised son on her renewed hope for democracy, Nini included the lyric “We got rid of Haman.”
Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper on Monday called Nini’s remark “ugly,” Channel 12 news reported, saying hatred on either side was detrimental. (On Monday, Nini apologized.)
Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov was also critical, he largely blamed intense heckling at the Knesset from lawmakers of the ousted government. “When MKs stand in the Knesset and curse and shout derogatory words and the public hears it, then it filters down to the street,” he told the Ynet website.
Right-wing Channel 20 reporter Yaara Zered wrote: “Calling the outgoing prime minister Haman is part of the unity and healing right?”
Former Likud MK Limor Livnat, who opposed Netanyahu in recent years, called Nini’s comment “disgusting, inciting and shameful.”
Many more commentators on social media were critical.
Nini initially doubled down on her remarks on Monday morning, telling Ynet that “I don’t take it back and I don’t apologize. I have no reason to apologize. Netanyahu did terrible damage to Israel.”
However, she later issued an apology, saying she wished “to erase the word that came out of my mouth from the protocols” and was sorry “to the large public that was hurt. That is not our way.”
As celebrations took place Sunday in Tel Aviv, there were contrasting scenes in Jerusalem.
Outside the official Prime Minister’s Residence, where Netanyahu was presumably spending his last night after 12 years as a resident, a few dozen Netanyahu supporters waved flags and sang “We love you.”
Others chanted “Shame, a government of Hamas and Abbas,” in reference to Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas, who joined the change coalition to oust Netanyahu.
Netanyahu came out to thank them, saying they had “moved him.” He then called on them to join a protest against the new government set for Tuesday in Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, Channel 20, a right-wing TV station that has long backed Netanyahu, published a homage to him consisting of a video of his greatest moments, with background music of “Thank you for all you have created,” a traditional song of praise to God.
— ערוץ 20 (@arutz20) June 13, 2021
Earlier, hundreds of religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem to blow trumpets and offer prayers against the incoming government.
The service was led by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of the northern city of Safed.
The ultra-Orthodox parties, now also out of power, have railed against the new government and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as “wicked” and claimed his new government’s policies would endanger the Jewish state.
Bennett, who is Israel’s first Orthodox prime minister, dismissed that attack as embarrassing and unhinged, a “hysterical outburst,” and vowed he would safeguard religious life in the country.