Israeli expatriates living in California gathered on Friday near the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to protest Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu.
Singing the Hebrew song “Kol Haolam Kulo Gesher Tzar Me’od” (“The world is a very narrow bridge”)—the lyrics of which are from Likutei Moharan, a collection of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s teachings—the dozens of expats accused Netanyahu of destroying Israeli democracy.
The organizers of this and similar rallies—held in solidarity with the mass protests that have become part of the weekend scenery in the country of their birth—are former Israelis who call their movement “UnXeptable.”
This otherwise scattered crew from different locations in the United States and Europe has in common the type of attachment to the land they love and left as to cause them to pine for activism in their mother tongue. And it’s no wonder, considering the errors in English on their Facebook page, starting with the second half of their title: “Saving the Israeli democracy.”
Given the seriousness of their quest, they might have asked a native to proofread their copy before posting it on social media. Apparently, they were in too much of a hurry to bother, however, what with the urgency of the task at hand.
In a mistake-laden mission statement from July 25, the group states, “… Israelis understand that the current crisis of COVID-19 with the 20% unemployment it caused, can’t be handled by an indicted prime minister who is fighting to save himself rather than the country. Netanyahu’s legal situation makes him unfit to take big decisions about the future of our country, such as his annexation declarations. Israelis in the Silicon Valley and all across the US are standing with our brothers and sisters, saying: we’ve got your back! We are raising donations for marketing materials, transportations, signs, sound equipment, and any other needs that can help save Israeli democracy. Our democracy depends on stopping Netanyahu from taking more power to himself and reducing the individual’s freedom.”
With all their verbiage, the one question that neither the expats above nor their brethren back home are able to answer is how Netanyahu is harming democracy. That’s because he isn’t.
A snap lesson in recent history is in order.
The April 9, 2019 Knesset elections resulted in a surprise impasse. The Blue and White Party, headed by Benny Gantz, tied with Netanyahu’s Likud and though the right-wing bloc had a majority, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman decided at the last minute not to join either side.
The second round of Knesset elections, held on Sept. 17 of that year, also ended in a deadlock—this time with Blue and White having garnered one seat more than Likud, but with no chance of cobbling together a coalition. A third-round was scheduled for six months hence.
Meanwhile, the naysayers claiming that Netanyahu had run his course as the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history were left with egg on their faces when he won the Dec. 26 Likud primary by a landslide, despite looming criminal charges against him.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit formally issued the indictments—for bribery, fraud and breach of trust—on Jan. 28, mere hours before Netanyahu attended the unveiling of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” Mideast plan at the White House.
The third round of Knesset elections, which coincided with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, took place on March 2. This time, voters (some of whom had contracted COVID-19 and were provided special polling stations in protective tents) gave Likud a greater number of mandates than Blue and White, but still not enough to form a coalition. After weeks of wrangling, Gantz finally agreed to enter into a national-unity government with Netanyahu.
According to the coalition agreement, which was signed on April 20, the premiership would rotate—first with Netanyahu at the helm and then, after 18 months, with Gantz assuming the role.
Gantz angered many of his voters by reneging on his vow never to sit in a government with Netanyahu. But those most livid were not really his supporters per se; they were a diverse bunch with different political affiliations who had come together for the sole purpose of defeating Netanyahu. This is why as soon as Gantz sealed the deal, the parties that made up Blue and White splintered off into their original factions—returning Likud to its status as the largest party in the Israeli parliament.
The process was grueling, due to the electoral system. But there was nothing undemocratic about it, including Gantz’s decision to stave off a fourth round of elections, which nobody wanted and that the country could ill afford.
This brings us to the current mob-fest that is gaining momentum in Israel and spurring expats to want in on the action. The unrest basically boils down to money, or rather a lack thereof, caused by the two months of lockdowns imposed by the government to curb the spread of the virus.
Small businesses were hit particularly hard, as they were not eligible initially for the kind of benefits awarded to laid-off salaried workers. Netanyahu, a free-market champion, was sympathetic to their plight.
Against the judgement of various health experts, he proceeded to reopen much of the economy in mid-May, when the coronavirus curve had flattened. He would have gone further with the policy if there hadn’t been an uptick in contagion and a steady rise in the death toll.
His main blunder was bureaucratic. The distribution of cash to the self-employed was chaotic; it was also too little, too late. The fury among those who lost their livelihoods was both legitimate and palpable, yet had nothing to do with Netanyahu’s legal troubles.
As for the emergency measures that he has adopted to monitor carriers and conduct epidemiological surveys: All are temporary and have been approved by the Knesset, as Israeli democracy requires.
Like every world leader today caught between fiscal woes and public-health concerns, Netanyahu is criticized simultaneously for ruining the economy and endangering lives. That citizens are disgruntled and panicked is understandable.
But what any of this has to do with the hysteria and vulgarity at the protests is beyond comprehension.
If the demonstrations are about Netanyahu’s “corruption,” well, his trial is underway, and he is innocent until proven otherwise. Moreover, those who feel that he cannot serve the country under such conditions should not vote for him the next time around.
If, on the other hand, the protests are about the tragedy of small businesses, then why are Palestinian and anarchist black flags flying overhead? And how is it connected to the proposed “annexation” of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria? In any case, all such issues are repeatedly on the proverbial and literal ballot.
Indeed, each person at these weekly riots near Netanyahu’s residence has the right to vote—a right that was exercised, much to everyone’s dismay, three times in the course of the past year. Nor is there any guarantee that the outcome of a fourth-round would be different. It is even possible that Netanyahu would do better if elections were held today, since Blue and White is no longer a large bloc.
Still, if the protesters were calling for new elections, that at least would be a tangible goal. Instead, they are behaving like a bunch of 1960s’ radicals in weird get-ups and pornographic props: a guy wearing a pig’s head, pointing his middle fingers at TV cameras; a girl with Netanyahu’s face painted on each of her bare breasts; another using filthy terms for female genitalia; a young man in fishnet stockings wrapped in crime-scene tape; and several people carrying large inflatable penises, on which is written something that Netanyahu said to his wife a decade ago: “Come on, Sara’leh, let’s get out of here.”
Describing any of this as Netanyahu “taking more power to himself and reducing the individual’s freedom” is truly “unXeptable.”
Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”