What’s in a number? Claims diverge on crowd size at pro-Netanyahu rally
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What’s in a number? Claims diverge on crowd size at pro-Netanyahu rally

PM says 15,000 came but one media outlet says there were just 2,000 protesters; guesswork, misinformation abounds

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up signs against judges and state prosecutors, during a rally in Tel Aviv on November 26, 2019. (Miriam  Alster/Flash90)
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold up signs against judges and state prosecutors, during a rally in Tel Aviv on November 26, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A Tuesday night rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu engendered yet another political battleground of claims and counterclaims, with differing estimates of the number of people in attendance.

Several thousand Netanyahu backers rallied in Tel Aviv in support of the embattled premier’s claims that prosecutors set to indict him for graft were attempting to overthrow him in a “coup.” That general tally is (probably) indisputable.

But the number of participants that attended the rally became a matter of contention on Wednesday, with wildly differing figures publicized by media outlets and the prime minister.

Until recently, police would publicize the number of people who attended various protests, but stopped the practice in recent years as the figures were being used for political ends.

However, a vacuum appears to have made the problem even more pronounced with various media outlets giving differing estimates and the prime minister himself tweeting what seemed to be a wildly inflated figure.

Organizers of the rally originally said they were expecting at least 10,000 people to participate, but estimates on the night from the Tel Aviv municipality put turnout between 2,000 and 5,000.

An analysis of cellphone data by the Globes financial outlet found that around 7,000 people attended Tuesday’s demonstration.

That same technology found that 50,127 people attended a rally at the same location in May in support of Blue and White, which was in contrast to the claim by the party’s No. 2 Yair Lapid that 100,000 turned up to that event.

Globes said the cellphone data is collected anonymously and does not have any impact on users’ privacy.

Meanwhile, other media outlets had a wide range of estimates of the attendance on Tuesday night, from a few thousand (Haaretz and Maariv) to 8,000 (Ynet). The Walla news site said just 2,000 demonstrators attended the event. Ynet’s Tel Aviv reporter tweeted that the MapChecking open source project put the figure at around 6,000.

But in a moment reminiscent of US President Donald Trump’s first day in office, Netanyahu and his spokesperson insisted after the event that 15,000 people had attended (while one speaker there put the number as high at 25,000).

Spectators on the National Mall in front of the US Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC for the inauguration of Donald Trump. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

According to Globes, the discrepancies in the assessments could be because unlike rallies at Tel Aviv’s famed Rabin Square, which has a capacity that is more or less known, the Tel Aviv Museum plaza has not held enough protests for authorities to estimate the number of demonstrators at any single event.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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