Who said there’s no march madness this year: 5 things to know for July 19
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Israel media review

Who said there’s no march madness this year: 5 things to know for July 19

Anger over the government’s response to the virus and Netanyahu’s alleged corruption has brought Israelis to the streets, with trust and love the only salve for the wave of dissent

Demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 18, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Demonstrators protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem on July 18, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

1. Large and at times violent protests rocked Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Saturday night, focusing attention yet again on a wave of public criticism against the government and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • In both cities, protests began in areas designated by police but later spilled over into the streets, with demonstrators marching through the cities and sometimes clashing with cops.
  • In Tel Aviv, which last week saw an “apolitical” protest by the self-employed and just a tiny preview of the anger building up in the form of a rock smashed into a bank window, things were very different Saturday night as the self-employed and Black Flag anti-corruption protesters joined together, though there are differing reports as to who joined whom.
  • Haaretz reports that in Tel Aviv, demonstrators finished their rally at the seaside Charles Clore Park and “began marching up the boardwalk and blocking the roads, before heading toward the center of the city. Protesters proceeded from Allenby Street to Sheinkin Street and up Rothschild Boulevard. Protesters shouted for residents to come show their support from their balconies: ‘Come out from the balconies, the country is collapsing!’”
  • Channel 12 news plays up the comments of one man interviewed who describes himself as a “burnt-out Likudnik”:
  • “None of my friends have work, photographers, they have nothing to eat. They say they only protest in Tel Aviv. Look how many people came from Ashdod, Ashkelon, look how many. I’m self-employed and since March I haven’t had work. Do they care?”
  • In Jerusalem, ToI notes that: “Thousands protested near the prime minister’s official residence … then marched though a series of roadblocks meant to contain them and blocked roads as they paraded for hours through the streets around the area, largely peacefully, waving anti-Netanyahu banners to the beats of drums and loud vuvuzelas. … Police later clashed with some of the protesters and used water cannons in an attempt to disperse the crowds.”
  • Army Radio’s Shahar Glick tweets a video of pushing and shoving from the capital’s Sacher Park, writing, “The violence has begun. Protesters call the water cannon [operators] ‘Nazis.’”
  • Ynet reports that among those on the front lines was former Shin Bet agent and anti-Netanyahu protest leader Gonen Ben Yitzhak, who was arrested after lying down in front of the water cannon trucks.
  • “Tonight I tried to appeal to the police commanders’ hearts not to endanger the protesters and not to use water cannons against regulations, to no avail. So I was forced to try and stop the cannon with my body and was arrested,” it reports he wrote later.

2. Two ways to build a tent: Channel 13’s Lior Kenan notes the “cosmic” coincidence of the protests falling exactly nine years after the start of the cottage cheese tent protests centered on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild boulevard, reporting on a meeting between Abir Kara, the leader of the current economic protests, and cottage cheese protester Itzik Alrov.

  • The conversation, he reports, quickly devolved into finger pointing between the two, with Alrov accusing Kara of being a shill for Netanyahu and Kara accusing Alrov of damaging the country and actually pushing prices up: “The conversation is the same as from nine years ago. Is it political or just economic? Is it a right-left issue, or a societal one,” Kenan writes.
  • Kara has defended his depoliticization policies as a way of opening his protest tent to be as wide as possible and the head of the Lahav organization, which represents the self employed, tells Army Radio that his group stayed away from the Tel Aviv protest because it had joined with the political demonstrators: “The protest needs to be connected to self-employed and small-business owners. I’m not for it being tinted by politics. The fact that there was a group there calling itself Black Flag — that changed the picture.”
  • Kan’s Gal Berger tweets that the issue goes beyond personal politics or economic policy: “In a country ruled by a culture of pell-mell, shoddiness, and ‘it’ll be fine,’ it’s no wonder that everything crashes every time we get to an extreme. This is a culture that blows up in our faces each time and we don’t learn. We see it in war, crises and now with pandemics. It has nothing to do with who is at the head. This is the culture, from top to bottom, and we can’t bury our heads in the sand.”

3. The show must go on: For some, it seems the protests have become a thing to do, with nothing else going on.

  • In Haaretz, Ofer Aderet describes a carnival-esque atmosphere as vendors hawk pretzels next to people in megaphones yelling about having nothing to eat.
  • “This is not a bad replacement for concerts, so long as there are no live shows,” musician Seffi Efrati tells him.
  • Actress and comedian Orna Banai was among the speakers at the Tel Aviv rally, but kept her setlist and jokes packed, instead telling Netanyahu to “go home” and claiming he is busy with “dismantling the state” rather than dealing with the economic ravages of the coronavirus.
  • Hemi Rudner, another musician at the Tel Aviv protest, tells Kan he’s not having a good time: “I am a demonstrator for Israeliness, for a better future. I don’t think one positive decision has been made. This government is an expression of tyranny and lawlessness. That they opened it up and are closing it is the worst thing for us, because we had started to line up dates and pay suppliers.”
  • Rapper Mooki writes on Facebook that he went to Balfour street in Jerusalem to show solidarity with the anti-corruption protesters but was dismayed by what he saw: “I wound up in a protest of hate that was directed personally against the prime minister and his family. This is not my way, so I left. I believe that this is a time for love, mutual care, and for each of us to support each other.”

4. Rebel yell: The protests were large enough that Israel Hayom cannot totally ignore them, so it places pictures of protesters on its front page, but below a headline about “half-a-million kids awaiting answers” referring to the government’s indecision on closing summer school camps.

  • The paper buries its coverage of the protests with a few paragraphs on page 9, and also reports that police are preparing for the possibility of a “rebellion,” though by that it appears they mean by people refusing to heed new virus regulations. In the piece, the police appear to express sympathy with the protesters and express the need for other policing methods beyond heavy-handed enforcement.
  • “The guidelines are changing quickly and creating poor ties between citizens and police. There’s no national explainer, and much of the anger is directed against the police.”
  • The head of the national PTA pretty much openly threatens the government with protests if it dares shut down schools/camps, telling Army Radio that “we will organize parents in a protest tent. If they plan to close the school system, we will take to the streets. This is not a decision we can accept.”
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial says, “People won’t agree to another lockdown or view it as essential to reducing the number of cases unless an organized plan emerges that provides assurances of an ultimate return to normal.”
  • “The Netanyahu government has proven that it can’t deal with the coronavirus. No more time must be wasted before appointing someone to take charge of dealing with the virus and its economic ramifications,” it reads.
  • Netanyahu is facing a good amount of fire Sunday for his decision to possibly fire MK Yifat Shasha-Biton from her role as head of the Knesset’s coronavirus committee if she again overturns government decisions on virus restrictions.
  • “The theater of the absurd has reached a new high,” writes Yuval Karni in Yedioth Ahronoth.

5. The general and the czar: Meanwhile, the virus is continuing to rage, with several news sites Sunday morning noting a “spike” in serious cases, in the words of Channel 12 news.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth (which also buries coverage of the protests somewhat on its A1), takes up much of the front of its tabloid with a bucket of words culled from an interview with former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot in which he says he asked the government to put him in the game as the coronavirus czar (or project manager, the term many Israelis have adopted for the promised but not filled position), with no answer.
  • The paper’s Yossi Yehoshua writes that Israelis should be troubled by what Eisenkot says, taking for granted that only a top general can lasso the pandemic (and bemoaning the fact that Gen. Roni Numa was forced to turn down the job after not getting assurances that he could have certain authorities): “This is not how you beat the coronavirus. Israel needs a figure with the right authorities and rich experience, who has already been at the top of the decision-making apparatus. A figure who will know how to look the government in the eye, before it’s too late.”
  • Instead Kan and Walla news both report that Prof. Gabi Barbash, a former head of Ichilov hospital, has been appointed to the position. This comes a week after some outlets reported that Barbash’s name was dropped from consideration due to the fact that he has been a near constant fixture on Channel 12 news as a critic of government policies.
  • In Israel Hayom, epidemiologist Prof. Nadav Davidovitch writes that what Israel needs is a dose of transparency, coupled with a shot of solidarity: “The propaganda needs to be pursued diligently and smartly, to build up and strengthen solidarity via practical measures that truly help during this complicated situation. This way we can bolster personal responsibility in preventing gatherings. We need public trust now. Trust like this cannot be found when it’s not clear enough to the public how decisions are being made and how much political weight they have.”
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