Despite normalization hype, Netanyahu faces wrath of Israelis

Tel Aviv restive nights 

October 4, 2020 - 22:14

TEHRAN – Tens of thousands of Israelis continued their protests on Saturday against the “failed” leadership of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, weeks after he vociferously sought to boost his political standing through hyping two normalization deals with some Arab countries.

Dozens of protesters were arrested by the Israeli security forces while others were attacked by pro-Netanyahu people who are mainly extremist Jews.

In Tel Aviv, the clashes between protesters and the security forces continued throughout the day until evening and nighttime. More than a dozen were arrested at the protest location. The security forces also stopped journalists from covering the protests. Bar Peleg, a reporter for the Israeli publication Haaretz, was fined for not social distancing, despite showing a press pass, which should legally allow him to enter and walk among protesters, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The Black Flag movement, one of the groups leading the protests against Netanyahu, estimated that 130,000 people took part in Saturday's protests against Netanyahu in cities and towns all across Israel, Haaretz reported.

The anti-Netanyahu protests were held throughout Israel despite the fact that the Israeli Knesset has recently passed a bill stipulating that, due to the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown, protesters may only demonstrate within a one-kilometer radius of their homes. The bill was widely seen as a ploy from Netanyahu to end weekly protests already going on against him. The Netanyahu government’s insistence to implement this bill has only exacerbated the protesters’ wrath against the prime minister.

The protesters say the Knesset bill was an illegitimate attempt to silence the angry public. The Black Flags said the government was more obsessed with squelching weekly protests against Netanyahu than fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

“They are silencing the public criticism… but we won’t give up our freedom to make our voices heard,” the group was quoted as saying by the Walla news site, according to the Times of Israel.

As the demonstrators poured into the streets in violation of the controversial bill, the security forces managed to disperse protesters by using excessive force. Videos circulating on social media platforms showed the police violently dispersing demonstrators, even those who complied with the Knesset bill by holding protests within one-kilometer distance from their homes while observing coronavirus-related instructions such as wearing face masks and social-distancing rules. One of these videos showed a police officer violently throwing a bucket at a boy. In Jerusalem, hardline ultra-Orthodox extremists also attacked journalists and smashed the glasses of cars parked on the streets.

The Black Flags Movement spokesperson has said Netanyahu is trying to stop protests against him through “arbitrary decisions” such as imposing one-kilometer distance for protests.

“There is no logic to the arbitrary decision,” the spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post regarding the one-kilometer decision. “It is only the logic of an accused man who is trying to stop the protests against him. Despite this, we call everyone to go out and protest according to the restrictions.”

The protest leaders accused Netanyahu and his inciters of violently confronting the protestors while the police refused to protect them. The police is itself accused of acting against the protestors or at least stopping short of protecting them from passersby and Netanyahu proponents.

The protests gained steam on Saturday as protesters challenged the government by taking to the streets to protest Netanyahu’s corruption and the way he handles the coronavirus crisis.

“Before we were just worried about the corruption, now we're out here to show them that they can't shut us up,” Haaretz quoted one protester in Tel Aviv as saying.

Another protester in a settlement near the Green Line said, “I have always supported the protest, and once they limited the distance, I decided to join, [because] from my perspective, they've crossed every possible line. Each of us has a red line. I define myself as center-right, but this is not a left-right struggle but rather a battle for better leadership. We simply feel that we don't have a father or mother.”

A third protester, who attends Haifa protests on a weekly basis, also said, “I hear the despair of young people and it worries me.”
Over the past few months, thousands of Israelis have camped before Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.

The weekly anti-Netanyahu protests continued unabated throughout September, despite the Israeli prime minister’s hype about two U.S.-brokered deals between Israel and Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to fully normalize diplomatic relations. 

In August, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he had brokered what he called historic peace deals between Israel and the UAE to normalize their relations. One month later, he announced a similar deal between Israel and Bahrain. Trump and Netanyahu both exaggerated the importance of these deals in an effort to boost their positions in internal politics. They said the normalization deals will change the course of history and mark the dawn of a “new Middle East” (West Asia). 

“We’re here this afternoon to change the course of history. After decades of division and conflict, we mark the dawn of a new Middle East. Thanks to the great courage of the leaders of these three countries, we take a major stride toward a future in which people of all faiths and backgrounds live together in peace and prosperity,” Trump said at a White House ceremony for signing the deals in mid-September. Netanyahu, and Abdullah bin Zayed and Abdullatif al-Zayani, the foreign ministers of Bahrain and the UAE, attended the ceremony. 

Netanyahu was so tickled pink that he caused fury in the UAE right after the announcement of the Israel-UAE deal in mid-August. In a bid to justify their deal with Israel, the Emiratis said that Israel committed to halting its plan to annex large parts of the West Bank in exchange for peace with the UAE. However, the Israeli prime minister rushed to say that he didn’t make any commitment to halt the annexation plan, embarrassing the Emirati leaders before their people, which led to the Emiratis criticizing Netanyahu. Some analysts believe that Netanyahu’s remarks enraged the leaders of the UAE and were the main reason behind Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed’s refusal to participate in the signing ceremony at the White House. 

Netanyahu did all these things to improve his political position among the Israelis. But while he was busy bragging about peace for peace with the Arab countries, protesters were chanting slogans against his corruption and mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. Netanyahu sought to use the normalization deals in his propaganda campaign to cover up the widespread opposition to his government. But continued protests across Israel showed that these deals did nothing to save him.