columnJewish & Israeli Holidays

No deterrence for Israeli demonstrations

Even an anti-government advocate’s reasonable request for a security-related pause in the protests is rejected by fellow activists.

Israeli protest the government and its judicial reform plans, Tel Aviv on April 8, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israeli protest the government and its judicial reform plans, Tel Aviv on April 8, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In a social-media post on Friday night, Israel Defense Forces Maj. Gen. (res.) Tal Russo urged fellow anti-government activists to skip the demonstrations scheduled for the following evening.

“In light of the difficult events throughout the country, security and police forces are on high alert and deployed in central locations from the Gaza Strip to the northern border,” he tweeted. “I therefore call on my comrades-in-protest against the coup to cancel tomorrow’s countrywide rallies. The situation demands it!”

Russo, who served in various high positions in the IDF and had a brief stint as a Labor Party Knesset member, wrote this plea in the immediate aftermath of the car-ramming in Tel Aviv, which took the life of 35-year-old Italian tourist Alessandro Parini and left a number of others injured. This assault, committed by Yousef Abu Jaber, an Arab Israeli from Kfar Qassem, came mere hours after a separate attack in the Jordan Valley.

In the latter, Palestinian terrorists out for Jewish blood ran a vehicle off the road, riddled its occupants with bullets and fled. British-Israeli sisters Maia and Rina Dee, aged 20 and 15 respectively, were killed instantly. Their mother, Lucy, on the way with her daughters from their home in Efrat to a Passover holiday outing in the north, was critically wounded. Their devastated father, Leo, in a second car, witnessed paramedics’ resuscitation efforts.

The above travesties followed barrages of rockets and mortars from Gaza and Lebanon, amid violent Ramadan riots in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Russo’s request for a pause in the protests was thus both understandable and appropriate.

As he attempted to point out, security forces have enough on their hands without the extra burden of protecting crowds of flag-wavers descending on city squares. Furthermore, though he didn’t say so, it behooves the public to take a timeout from political strife to respect the grieving families of the victims.

But even such a reasonable entreaty on the part of someone with impeccable left-wing credentials was perceived by some purists as an affront.

“This tweet is a disgrace,” commented proud combatant Costa Black. “You’re a disgrace. Shame on you! Who are you? Who gave you the authority? Idiot! The protest is the only hope to save Israel!”

Black’s outburst caused somewhat of a stir, with friends reminding him that Russo is “one of us,” and followers reassuring the young hothead that the much older retired military man hadn’t meant, heaven forbid, to cast aspersions on the hallowed demonstrations.

They sure got that right. As soon as the Saturday-night festivities to “rescue Israeli democracy” from “messianic fascists” were in full swing, Russo turned up in all his glory.

That’s not all. At the happening in question, he was photographed in a smiling semi-embrace with none other than Black himself. You know, to convey a unified front in the battle against the right-wing ruling coalition, led by “Crime Minister” Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. That a derogatory poster of Bibi happened to be in the background made the picture all the more frame-worthy.

Speaking of which, Netanyahu’s face, superimposed on an image of Pharaoh, was prominently displayed at that very demonstration on a massive banner reading: “LET MY PEOPLE GO.”

The copywriters and graphic designers of that particular piece of artwork must have been pleased with themselves for coming up with the timely reference. Using Passover as the plug, they pulled a real two-fer: comparing Bibi to the ancient Egyptian king from whose enslavement the Jews eventually were extricated; and penning the biblical phrase in block capital English letters for foreign consumption.

The only nod that the protest movement gave to the previous day’s carnage was a moment of silence. Oh, and an agreement not to block any highways. It’s always inexcusable when ambulance access is curbed, but it’s especially perilous under the current circumstances—with missiles flying from every direction and antisemitic predators, fueled by incitement, on the loose.

The demonstrators were willing, at least, to accept that police directive, perhaps out of fear for their own safety. What they didn’t care to take into account was the manpower needed to guarantee it.

Rather than re-emphasizing this very point, Russo opted to take to the streets with those who criticized him for stressing it in the first place. So much for his bold exclamation about what the “situation demands.”

Maybe he simply realizes that, by next week, he won’t have to utter a word to this effect, as the winds of war will have made it painfully obvious.

Ruthie Blum is a Tel Aviv-based columnist and commentator. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, as well as on U.S.-Israel relations. The winner of the Louis Rappaport award for excellence in commentary, she is the author of the book “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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