Tens of thousands protest Netanyahu government, call for elections

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An estimated 34,000 Israelis took to the streets on Saturday night to protest the Netanyahu government. In Caesarea, four were arrested, in Tel Aviv police shot water cannons at demonstrators blocking the Ayalon highway, and in Jerusalem, protesters temporarily shut down the city-center intersection at Paris Square. 

Across the different protests, speakers denounced not only the members of the governing coalition, but also those who sit in the opposition or are seen as alternatives to Netanyahu in a post-war re-alignment: 

In Tel Aviv, Moshe Redman, who was a leader of the movement to oppose the government’s proposed judicial reforms last year, called on “[Ministers-without-portfolio Benny] Gantz and [Gadi] Eisenkot”— who sit with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the war cabinet— “the leaders of the opposition, the chairman of the Histadrut, the heads of local governments, leaders in the economy, the heads of universities, and others who look at this disaster and don’t take action— wake up!”

Yair Golan calls for “mother of all protests” to bring elections

In Haifa, at a protest that centered calls for a hostage deal and early elections, Major General (res.) and former Member of Knesset Yair Golan, who is looked to as a candidate to lead the political left in the coming period, called the current government shameless, telling the crowd, “the shame is lost, and all we have left is a determined, hard, bitter struggle.” 

Golan said this struggle had “two stages: First, we all must feel rage— holy rage, deep rage, restless rage. With this rage,” he said, “we will bring down the government and bring about new elections.” 

Demonstrators blocking the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv are hit with water from a cannon during a protest yesterday calling for the release of the hostages. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Golan called upon the crowd to build the “mother of all protests,” saying “it is on us to go out into the streets, in the thousands, all day, every day,” encouraging demonstrators to “besiege the Knesset,” to “stand at intersections,” and to “fill the streets and paralyze the [government]’s ability to govern,” referring to the coalition as memshelet ha-ason— the “government of the catastrophe.”

“We must bring Netanyahu himself to the inevitable conclusion that he must disband the Knesset and set a date for early elections,” Golan concluded. 

“Secondly,” he said, “we must build an alternative,” saying that such an alternative must have “a cohesive worldview, with a real vision, and a practical ideology,” and rejecting any of the current leaders in the Knesset— including the opposition— as its leaders.

Crowds call for action on haredi draft evasion

Political figures and community leaders addressed the large crowds about drafting ultra-Orthodox Israelis to the IDF, a perennial issue that has erupted anew in the wake of greater need for soldiers following October 7 and the war against Hamas and its allies. 

In Jerusalem, where protestors have been gathering for ten weeks to demand early elections, haredi rabbi Bezalel Cohen said that within the haredi community there is a desire to come to a compromise, but that the current Israeli leadership was not up to the task of brokering one.

“Many in the haredi community strongly feel that the current situation is inappropriate and must be changed, significantly, as soon as possible,” Cohen said. “They feel it, deep in their hearts, the illogic and injustice of the current situation, and they seek to correct it and to share in the defense of the nation and the land. Unfortunately, I fear that we do not have leadership, [religious] or public, capable of leading this process.” 

Lt. Col. (res.) Benny Barbash, the writer and screenwriter, invoked the Bible’s blessings and curses, telling the Jerusalem crowd: “We are at the most important and critical period in the entire history of the Zionist movement. One path, of Netanyahu and his government, leads to an abyss of corruption, degeneracy, crash, and destruction. A second path leads towards repair, restoration, reconciliation, and— if we try hard enough— also to peace, prosperity, and security for us and our neighbors.” Barbash then quoted Deuteronomy 30:19:

“I have given life and death before you; the blessing and the curse; choose life so that you and your descendants will live.”

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