After 27 weeks of mass demonstrations, the anti-Netanyahu democracy demonstrations are experiencing a new upsurge, with daily demonstrations outside the homes of members of parliament, as well as thousands demonstrating in Ben Gurion Airport, and talk of a new general strike. The ‘Israeli Defence Forces’ (IDF) invasion of the Jenin refugee camp, killing 12 Palestinians in a transparent attempt to detract from and head off the protests, did not stop this process.
Tel Aviv Police Chief Ami Eshed, who has led a relatively restrained approach to policing the protests, resigned on July 5th. He was in effect forced out by ultra-right Security Minister Ittamar Ben Gvir, who was demanding more brutal policing. Eshed told a TV press conference: “I pay an unbearable price for my choice to prevent a civil war.”
But elements of civil war are developing. Eshed’s resignation was met with thousands of demonstrators blocking the main Ayalon motorway, and clashing with police who used water cannon, injuring a dozen protesters, including Udi Ori, an air-force pilot who required eye surgery. A right-wing motorist drove his car at high speed into the crowd injuring two more protesters.
Udi Ori was the opening speaker in the mass Saturday rally in Tel Aviv three days later. Setting the tone, he said that if he ends up losing his eye, it will be a small price to pay for defending democracy. Around 180,000 protesters attended. Representatives of the doctors and students announced that they will go on strike on Tuesday if the government passes the next stage of its legal reforms. A tech CEO also announced that the tech companies will shut down that day and encourage their staff to join the demos. A large demonstration is planned at the airport that afternoon. A retail conglomerate has announced that it will shut down its shopping malls on Tuesday. And Yair Lapid has called on the Histadruth to call a general strike on Tuesday.
The leaders of the protest movement have announced that they plan to intensify the protests and move them to the next level, described by protest leader Skimah Bressler as “impolite protests”.
Thousands of army veterans held an all-night protest outside the home of Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, calling on him to speak out against Netanyahu’s attacks on democratic rights (as he did in March). Elite army and navy reserve units have again announced that they will refuse to serve if the high court’s powers are curtailed.
But there is a lack of discussion about what the demands of the movement are. At the previous Saturday demonstration, members of the “Brothers in Arms” military veterans group physically attacked members of the anti-occupation block who unfurled a sign saying, “It is obligatory to resist settler terror”.
Protest leaders have argued that mentioning the occupation is a divisive detraction and that the protests need to focus on its main aims. But there is no clarity on what the main aims of the movement are, what its demands are, and what, concretely, it means by the slogan, “Democratia”.
The protest leaders have set up an organisation to mobilise the core of activists and stewards called “Kaplan Force”, and thousands have answered the call to join, donned its T-shirts, turned up to its actions, and joined its WhatsApp groups. But only administrators are allowed to post messages on these groups, with no explanation of who these administrators are, and how they were appointed. There are no forums where members can discuss the tactics, the strategy, and the demands of the protests movement, or elect its leadership. Like the democracy movement, as a whole, it lacks any kind of basic democratic structure. The movement is directed and bankrolled by capitalist grandees, banking and tech CEOs, former politicians, generals, and secret service chiefs. These representatives of the capitalist establishment (many with dubious democratic credentials) hide behind innocuous “leaders”, with no political history, who have popped up to front the demonstrations.
The slogan “Democracy” is designed to be sufficiently abstract to appeal to the wider masses, while not threatening the profits of the capitalists. But the capitalist establishment is mobilising the masses because they do not have the power to rein in Netanyahu and his ultra-nationalist coalition partners. So Yair Lapid, the capitalist opposition leader, who had no time for workers’ issues when he was prime minister, last year, is calling on the Histadruth to call a general strike on Tuesday. But his party, Yes Atid, offers nothing to workers who are being crushed by the cost of living crisis and rising mortgage payments.
The Histradruth leadership is, in effect, being pressured by the capitalists to launch a general strike. The Histadruth should say – yes we will strike – but our strike will be the decisive factor in this movement, so from this point on, we will lead the movement and organise democratic debate and decision–making within it, to ensure that it fights for the interests of our members and other workers, rather than for the interests of sections of the capitalist class and the judicial establishment.