Thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, accusing the veteran leader of mishandling the nation’s security and calling for a new election.
The protesters, who wore masks and maintained social distancing due to the Covid-19 pandemic, waved flags and banners that read “Bibi, go home”, “Enough is enough”, and “Stop the war, save the hostages”.
The protesters also chanted slogans such as “Bibi, you failed”, “We want peace, not war”, and “Free the hostages, end the occupation”.
The protest was organized by several civil society groups, such as the Movement for Quality Government, the Black Flag Movement, and the Peace Now Movement, who have been leading anti-government demonstrations for much of 2023, demanding Netanyahu’s resignation over corruption charges and his handling of the health and economic crises.
The anti-government protests, which at their peak drew hundreds of thousands of people across the country, ceased after the attacks by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7, which killed about 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages in Gaza.
Political rifts were set aside as Israelis rallied behind the military and the families of those killed or taken hostage, and as the nation entered a state of emergency and a lockdown to contain the spread of the virus and the violence.
But with the devastating war in Gaza in its fourth month and opinion polls showing lagging support for Netanyahu, calls for leadership changes are growing stronger, though there is no indication that his position is under any imminent threat.
The Longest-Serving Prime Minister
Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009 and is the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, faces three corruption cases in which he is accused of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. He denies any wrongdoing and says he is the victim of a political witch-hunt.
Netanyahu also faces criticism and condemnation from the international community, including the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who said that the scale of civilian killings in Gaza was “heartbreaking and utterly unacceptable”.
Netanyahu has also declared that he opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of any post-war scenario, and that he would insist on “full Israeli security control over all the territory west of the Jordan River”. He said this was incompatible with the idea of Palestinian sovereignty, and that he had relayed his positions to the US.
Netanyahu’s stance has drawn criticism and pressure from the US, which is Israel’s main ally and supporter, but also its main mediator and partner in the peace process. The US has called on Israel to scale back its offensive and said that the establishment of a Palestinian state should be part of the “day after”.
The protesters in Tel Aviv said that they wanted a new government that would end the war, release the hostages, resume the negotiations, and respect the human rights and the dignity of both Israelis and Palestinians.
They also said that they wanted a new government that would fight corruption, restore democracy, and address the social and economic problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the war.
They also said that they wanted a new government that would represent the diversity and the unity of the Israeli society, and that would reflect the values and the aspirations of the Israeli people.
The protesters said that they would continue to demonstrate until their demands were met, and that they hoped to inspire more people to join their cause and to voice their dissent.