Eli Ben-Ezra, an employee of a high-tech company from the suburban settlement of Maale Adumim, outside Jerusalem, held a sign reading, “I’m an alien.” He was with his son Yair, 12, whose sign read, “I’m a little alien.”
“I’m fed up with the damage that Netanyahu is doing to our democracy, the way he’s undermining the gatekeepers of the legal system, the lack of unity and statesmanlike behavior, the way he pits us against each other,” Mr. Ben-Ezra said. He resents being dismissed as an “alien” or an “anarchist” when he, like the vast majority of the protesters, is a patriotic Israeli citizen anxious about the country’s future and his own. People from settlements aren’t a common sight at the protests, though there was one man with a skullcap and a sign reading, “The right is fed up with Bibi too,” which is probably more hopeful than true.
Despite the heady eruption of liberal energy on the street, in Parliament, where it counts, the center-left is toothless. The Labor Party never recovered from the waves of Arab violence that shattered the peace dreams sold to the Israeli public in the 1990s. Centrist alternatives have come and gone. The centrist party Blue and White, led by the ex-general Benny Gantz, split apart this spring at the peak of the coronavirus panic when Mr. Gantz took half of the party and joined Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition, which he’d promised not to do.
Outmaneuvered at every turn and revealed as a political naïf, the general’s popularity has since tanked. Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party may have just a quarter of the vote, but right now it’s the only substantial political movement in Israel. No vuvuzelas or dancing aliens can change that.
Anyone who’s been around here for a long time can’t help but be struck by the echoes of the last real wave of demonstrations against Mr. Netanyahu, in the summer of 2011. Those were set off by growing social inequality, and enabled by the new tools of Facebook and Twitter. I remember being at the same intersection near Balfour Street with tens of thousands of others, sure that something was going to change. It was the same summer as the Arab Spring uprisings, and the world felt fluid. We all know how the Arab Spring turned out — all, apparently, except one guy this weekend whose upbeat sign proclaimed, “The Israeli Spring Has Arrived!”
Mr. Netanyahu weathered those protests and delivered a decade of economic growth, relative safety and cynical, hopeless politics. One of the few accomplishments of those demonstrations was to elevate two charismatic young organizers into Parliament as a new generation of liberal leaders. One of them left after a few terms. The second is now a minister in Mr. Netanyahu’s government.
Matti Friedman (@MattiFriedman) is a contributing Opinion writer and the author, most recently, of “Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel.”
The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This content was originally published here.