Israelis across the globe join anti-Netanyahu protests

Israelis in 18 cities across the globe joined last week the anti-Netanyahu protest movement.

al-monitor A protester waves an Israeli flag and a black flag during an anti-government demonstration in front of the Prime Minister's residence in Jerusalem on Aug. 29, 2020. Protests demanding that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resign over several corruption indictments and his handling of the coronavirus crisis have been mounting in recent weeks, and the premier has been scathing in his counterattack.  Photo by Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images.

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police brutality, demonstrations, corruption, germany, benjamin netanyahu, democracy, protests

Sep 3, 2020

More than a hundred Israelis gathered in the center of London on Aug. 2, protesting against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, against state corruption and against what they considered the erosion of democratic norms in their homeland. Assembled near the Israeli Embassy on High Street Kensington, the protesters flew black flags — the same black flags that have become the symbol of the anti-Netanyahu movement, raising a warning sign over the danger Israel’s democracy is currently facing. The demonstration was easily organized through Facebook via groups of Israeli expats and Israeli students in the United Kingdom.

The London demonstration was not the first of its kind. Similar protests have taken place before in Paris, New York, San Francisco and Berlin. Evidently, over time, these demonstrations kept growing, with the Aug. 2 demonstration generating much interest both in the UK and in Israel. The reason for the increased interest was its timing — London’s demonstration took place just hours after a mass anti-Netanyahu rally in Jerusalem outside Netanyahu’s official residence.

Since then, over the weekends that followed, more and more anti-Netanyahu demonstrations were organized outside Israel. On Aug. 11, some 50 Israeli students and lecturers protested at the University of Cambridge in the UK. The protesters chanted "crime minister’’ — the slogan of the anti-Netanyahu rallies. On the same day, other Israelis protested outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, demanding that Netanyahu resign. It was the first time such a protest took place in the American capital.

These overseas demonstrations reached a peak on Aug. 29, when protesters gathered simultaneously in 18 locations across the globe. Israelis came together in Amsterdam, Atlanta, Basel, Berlin, Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Madrid, Miami, New York, Oslo, Paris, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington, DC. The demonstration chain was coordinated with activists in Israel, who staged a mass rally simultaneously on Jerusalem's Balfour Street. The 18 protests were transmitted live on Facebook and screened outside Netanyahu’s official residence before thousands of demonstrators. Organizers of the overseas demonstrations said this was the largest protest event ever staged by Israelis living abroad against their government.

Talia De Vries, one of the organizers of the Paris demonstration, told Al-Monitor, "We, Israelis living in France, are joining the battle over democracy staged back home. Israelis living overseas are expressing unprecedented solidarity with the campaign against attempts by the Israeli government in the past few years to divide and split our society. Every day, new and delusional laws are adopted to erode the foundations of democracy in Israel. Corruption has reached record levels. The Knesset is revoking itself. Ministers attack the law enforcement system. Police brutality against citizens is growing."

De Vries explains that she and her friends in France could no longer keep silent, as their homeland was being shredded apart. "Our friends, our families are collapsing under the burden of the health and economic crisis, while the prime minister, indicted over bribery, corruption and breach of trust, is busy saving his own skin. He is oblivious to the public, which cries out for another leadership. That is why we chose to stand up and show our solidarity with the Balfour protest."

Indeed, Israelis demonstrating against their government outside Israel isn’t an everyday event. The prevailing perception is that Israelis living abroad should support their country and government almost automatically. Israeli law enables only citizens living in the country to vote. Diplomats and official emissaries are the only exceptions to that rule. The logic behind this is that citizens who choose to live elsewhere, who do not participate in the country’s daily life, do not pay their taxes there, do not serve in the army, are not confronted with the risks of living in a country at war and are not exposed to terror attacks, should not have the right to decide who would govern.

Over the years, several Israeli politicians, including Netanyahu, have tried to change that law and enable Israelis residing overseas to vote, either at a nearby embassy or by mail, but these bills never matured into laws and were never adopted by the Knesset.

Yoni Charash, one of the Washington protest organizers, told the Israeli press, "Although we live, at the moment, outside of Israel, Israel is still our home, our culture. This year, I was released from my duties as an officer in the [Israel Defense Force's] reserve forces, and for me to join the protest even from here, out of my love for Israel and precisely because I care so much about it, is the best service I can do right now for Israel."

De Vries says that more and more Israelis are interested in joining the Paris demonstrations. She and her friends have no intention of stopping — at least as long as Israelis continue to demonstrate on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street.

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