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The fiery situation in Israel

Sunday, August 2nd. More than 10,000 protesters invaded the centre of Jerusalem. They participated in the new demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The demonstrators waved flags of the Jewish state and loudly demanded the resignation of the Likud leader, shouting slogans.
Another two thousand people gathered outside the premier’s personal residence in Caesarea, on the coast north of Tel Aviv. Even in Tel Aviv itself hundreds of demonstrators demanded the resignation of the premier and the government for their economic policies during the coronavirus crisis.
Another accusation made against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is that he decided to reopen activities in the country too soon. In fact, the country is now facing a second wave of the Coronavirus epidemic while it must face a clash with Hezbollah at the border, according to the words of the Israeli military.

Some local media have described these street demonstrations as the largest ever held in the country to ask for the PM’s resignation.
The protest lasted without incident until after midnight, but then there were some clashes when the police began to disperse the demonstrators.
Officers stopped 12 people from the group who did not want to leave the scene.
Among the slogans against the government, the most tuned was: “An entire generation is asking for its future”.

The tension in Israel is therefore really high.

Not only in Tel Aviv the demonstrators gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, but also in Jerusalem. Here they displayed banners with references to allegations of corruption and fraud for which Netanyahu is currently on trial.
Demonstrations, even very much attended, are not unusual in Israel.
What appears to be a big news for the country is the transversality of the movement.
In fact, people from the most diverse social backgrounds have taken part in this movement: students, restaurant owners and businesses that failed because of the epidemic, left-wing party veterans. All with a common goal: to ask for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For his part, Benjamin Netanyahu seems not to be particularly concerned about what is happening in the squares of the various cities of Israel, at least on the front.
In fact in this context what seems to really worry the premier is Hezbollah.
In recent days, in fact, Netanyahu has announced that the Israeli defence forces have foiled an incursion by Hezbollah militia on the heights of the occupied Golan.
The dynamics of the facts, however, have very contrasting versions.
First of all, because the Lebanese Shiite movement has denied any involvement in operations on the ground, accusing Israeli enemy troops of being “too nervous” about the incident. The Premier, for his part, replied: “Hezbollah should know that it is playing with fire”. He then added a warning to this statement: “any attack from Lebanese territory will cause a powerful response”.
The question that comes to mind is whether this “attack” carried out by Hezbollah was not artfully engineered by Mossad, at the behest of the Prime Minister with the aim of shifting attention to other problems that the country is going through.

The coronavirus appeared in Europe at the beginning of March, a period coinciding more or less with the previous elections held in Israel.
The response of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – outgoing Prime Minister and reconfirmed after the formation of a “government of wide understandings” together with Benny Gantz (Blue and White) but in the spotlight for a series of judicial investigations against him – had been cautious and thoughtful, including in terms of public health.

Subsequently, after skilfully riding the wave of fears raised by the pandemic, the Prime Minister managed to convince the opposition parties, holding a narrow majority in parliament, to form an emergency government to deal with the situation.
Since then, both health policies and the government’s approach have changed completely.
In fact, once the threat of losing power was put aside, Netanyahu began to act as if the Coronavirus pandemic was a fixed problem.
On the day the new government took office, May 17, it seemed that Israel had managed to bring the epidemic under control.
“Reasoning and haste do not go together,” said the ancient Greek playwright Sophocles.
Thought more appropriate in this case there is not.
In fact, the Israeli Government, with the haste to restart the economy, has therefore decided to cancel, from one day to the next, all or almost all the containment health measures.
Benjamin Netanyahu, newly reinstated premier, invited the population at that time: “Go have a coffee or a beer at the bar. Have a good time”.
This kind of invitation and the end of all kinds of health precautions, or almost all of them, led the country to have serious problems again in mid-June.
In fact, by mid-June, the country was back to peaks of 2,000 infected people every day, while at the moment we are around a daily average of 1,500 infected people. A number not particularly high compared to other countries, but if compared instead to the total population of the country, 9 million and 200 thousand inhabitants, then the situation becomes a bit ‘more serious and complex.

Inadequate government response?
Observers and experts in the field more or less all agree that the government’s response to the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is inadequate.
The Israeli Government has left enormous freedom to the population, the Israelis have returned to work, to gyms, to the beach and to school without any distancing, without protection or precautions.
According to experts, one of the reasons for this second wave is to be found in schools. In a country where classes have on average between 30 and 40 children, the complete reopening of schools is the cause of this second wave. The symptoms of the disease have in fact manifested on average younger patients and the spread has been widespread throughout the country.

The expert of Israel’s Ministry of Health and epidemiologist Siegal Sadetzki has left her post and has bitterly polemicized against the government and the choices made by it.
Siegel Sadetzki said: “Despite explicit warnings, the government has removed the restrictions too quickly and is responsible for the second wave of the pandemic.
What is certain is that the country has gone from being a successful model to an announced disaster within weeks. This also served as a litmus test regarding the level of popularity of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose approval rate went from 73% in mid-May to 38% in mid-July. This is also due to the fact that the subsidies allocated by the government have only slightly offset the hardship, losses, missed earnings and difficulties suffered by citizens.

Another reason for the low level of popularity and therefore also of discontent, just see the latest demonstrations, is related to the high unemployment rate which has reached 21% at the end of June.
At the same time as this very worrying figure was coming out, at the end of June, the Knesset (Israel’s one-chamber parliament) passed an ad personam law for a tax compensation to the premier that guarantees him retroactive benefits worth about 1 million shekels, more or less $292,570.
This rule was approved in the absence of the government allies, the “centrists” of Blue and White led by Benny Gantz who left the courtroom as a sign of protest.
What is certain is that approving such a rule, given the economic crisis that the country is going through, is something truly unscrupulous, serious and insensitive. Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, said he was on the right side but at the same time he apologized for making the request “at an inappropriate time”.

The accusation of the street protesters and all his detractors is that while the country was sinking, the Prime Minister was looking elsewhere. He was looking exclusively at his own interests, the survival of his policy and even his plans to annex the West Bank.
During the demonstrations, the crowd also shouted slogans against the law passed this week that gives to the Government special powers to combat the spread of the virus until the end of 2021.
For Israel, the current situation is therefore truly worrying and delicate.
In addition to the problems outlined above, there are also tensions in the coalition between the majority parties, Netanyahu’s Likud and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party regarding the approval of the budget law.
In fact, Likud argues that if no agreement is reached on the budget law, one might have to go back to the vote and this round of voting would be the fourth time in less than a year (with all that follows).

This “threat” would be connected not so much to visions of the country’s economic and/or financial policy but to the decision of the Jerusalem Tribunal to start listening to the witnesses of the trial against the Prime Minister in office and also to the need for Netanyahu to take back the Ministry of Justice, at the moment led by Avraham Daniel Nissenkorn belonging to the White Blue Coalition.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal is only one at the moment: to obtain a “sine die” postponement of the trial.

To conclude, it can be said with certainty that the protests that are “inflaming” the squares and streets of Israel are only partially explained by the socio-economic impacts attributable to the Coronavirus (a multiplier of already existing illnesses).
What is happening between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv has its roots in the birth of this new government. An “executive” born with some particular characteristics, due to the still pending judicial troubles of Benjamin Netanyahu and to the extreme heterogeneity of the forces that represent it with deeply divergent and historically distant visions of the country.

Among the great merits of these protests, it should certainly be underlined that an extremely important issue has been put at the centre of national media discussions. What has been put at the centre of the debate is, in fact, a problem that also marked the last round of elections and that has been part of Israeli society for at least a decade: the relationship between democracy and power.

By, Michele Brunori

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