The biggest question this week in Israel is whether they will take a break. The tentative answer is — not yet.
Everyone knows that the question refers to The Protest — that amorphous group of individuals and organisations who have succeeded in bringing hundreds of thousands of Israelis out on to the streets for the past three months against the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plans.
There are, of course, key organisers coordinating the protests. But at times it feels as if The Protest has a mind of its own.
Certainly, the most effective and devastating of the rallies was the Sunday night protest which had not been planned in advance, when tens of thousands streamed out onto the streets within an hour of the announcement that Benjamin Netanyahu was firing his Defence Minister Yoav Galant.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s TV address to the nation
Last Saturday night, after Netanyahu had already announced he was suspending the legislation to allow for negotiations, everyone waited to see how many people would turn up for the by now traditional motzei shabbat rallies. The half a million — at least — exceeded all expectations.
But the question remains: with the legislation now on hold and the next weeks filled with Pesach dinners, holidays, remembrance days for the Holocaust and IDF Fallen Soldiers, then Israel’s 75th Independence Day, will The Protest at least take it down a few notches?
“To be honest I’d love to take a break for a couple of weeks,” said one organiser in a private discussion. “But our organisations and local groups keep coming up with initiatives and we’re not going to stop them.
"Then you have ministers saying this is just a break for them and when the Knesset summer session begins after Independence Day, the legislation will be reintroduced, so we can’t take a break.”
The latest idea among some of the activists is to hold a “torches ceremony” on the evening of April 25 (when Israel transitions from the solemnity of Soldiers Remembrance Day to the festivities of Independence Day) on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, where the largest protest rallies take place.
The idea is to rival the national torches ceremony which takes place on Mount Herzl in the presence of the country’s leaders, and to dedicate it to the principles of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
On the one hand, it’s an almost sacred Israeli ceremony which millions of Israelis watch on television. On the other, in recent years it has been dominated by Netanyahu. The activists who favour holding their own in Tel Aviv figure they could draw hundreds of thousands to their event and force the television channels to show the two ceremonies on split-screens. But does
The Protest really want to have to take the blame for splitting the nation?
national private guard?
One key motivation that brought people out last Saturday was the promise Netanyahu gave to Jewish Power leader and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Monday, in return for him agreeing not to resign over the suspension of the judicial overhaul.
The prime minister promised to expedite the formation of a “national guard” under the direct control of the national security ministry. Cue many of the protesters holding signs against
“Ben-Gvir’s private militia.”
“It’s a prime example of a good idea that is going to be ruined by politics,” said a senior security official. “There is a clear need for a tactical force which the police can deploy at short notice to tackle disturbances and the type of criminal activities which regular police districts don’t have the resources to deal with. But by putting the force at Ben-Gvir’s disposal, rather than under the command of the national commissioner, the government is basically ensuring that it will never happen.”
Surprisingly, one of Ben-Gvir’s closest political allies, Jewish Power MK Almog Cohen, says almost exactly the same thing. “The only reason people are against the national guard now is because Ben-Gvir is the minister in charge,” he said.
“It’s a project which has been in the planning for nearly two years, and was originally called the Israeli Guard. Ben-Gvir has made sure there will finally be sufficient funding. Everyone agrees it’s necessary and of course it will be under police command, how could it be otherwise?”
That makes sense but it doesn’t explain why, in the written commitment Netanyahu gave last Monday which Ben-Gvir immediately leaked to the press, it said that the national guard “would be under the national security ministry’s authority.” Or why the minister, who has been at loggerheads for weeks with police commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, is insisting — despite the opposition of the entire security establishment and the attorney-general — that he alone gets to define the national guard’s missions.
Meanwhile, Yoav Galant is still Defence Minister, as if the announcement of his firing never happened. The official letter informing him of his removal apparently exists in the prime minister’s office but has not been sent.
It is now extremely unlikely to be. That’s not just because of Netanyahu’s political weakness. The sheer irresponsibility of replacing the head of the defence establishment right now seems to be too much for him.
Not only are we in the middle of the Ramadan, with the fear of chaos breaking out in Jerusalem and the West Bank at any moment, but the northern border and Gaza are tense as well.
A series of air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria in recent days, for which Israel has not taken responsibility but with little doubt as to their provenance, was answered on Tuesday by an Iranian drone that entered Israeli airspace from Syria, and then another which took off in Gaza on Wednesday.
Both were intercepted but while the Gazan drone was shot-down by a jet fighter, the drone from Syria, almost certainly a “Shahed,” was brought to ground, largely intact, by “soft methods.”
In other words, Israel now has on its northern border a proven electronic-warfare system capable of intercepting and taking control of Iranian drones.
The reason the IDF has acknowledged this for the first time, rather than keeping quiet about the method of interception, is partly to deter Iran and Hezbollah, but also because similar systems are seemingly being used over the battlefield in Ukraine to intercept the Iranian drones being used by the Russian invading forces. Iran, which has military advisers with the Russian forces, is already aware of their existence.