Thousands of “Black Flag” protestors, among them Hadash and Communist Party of Israel activists, gathered on Sunday evening, April 19, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to demonstrate against the far-right government. The anti-Netanyahu protest was the most political in nature of the several led by grassroots movement over the past month since COVID-19 restrictions have been in place. Several thousand more participated in virtual versions of the rally on Facebook and Zoom, due to coronavirus fears.
Chairman of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) told the rally participants, “Given our shared fate, we are fighting the cruel coronavirus epidemic – Arab and Jewish doctors, caretakers and pharmacists. We will continue fighting and we will beat it. This shared fate is meant to continue through all the issues that are dear to us: Peace, democracy, equality and social justice.” Odeh admitted, “It’s not easy for me to stand among some of the speakers here tonight, but we need to see the main point – only through a joint Jewish-Arab struggle can we succeed.” Odeh added, “This crisis presents a huge opportunity for a wide Jewish-Arab front for peace and democracy.”
Addressing the protest in Tel Aviv, Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of destroying Israeli democracy and his former ally Benny Gantz of allowing it to happen. “They are fighting to get into the government,” his said of his former partner. “Telling themselves stories. They say, ‘We’ll fight from the inside.’ You will not fight from the inside. You do not fight corruption from within. If you’re inside, you’re part of it.” “A person with indictments can’t appoint a police chief, a state prosecutor, an attorney general, and the judges who will deal with his case. That is Netanyahu’s list of demands. Those that give in to those demands are not an opposing voice; they are just decoration…That is how democracies die in the 21st century. They are not wiped out by tanks overrunning parliament. They die from within. Five years ago, Turkey was still a functioning democracy. Four years ago, Hungary was still a democracy. They died from within. Because good people were silent and weak people surrendered.”
The rally was moved from a smaller venue so that organizers could comply with another police requirement – to maintain a distance of two meters between protesters, as well as clusters of ten people separated by ten meters from the next group. The Police also required organizers to mark the spots where people could stand and said speakers must call on protesters to “maintain distance and wear a mask for the safety of the participants.” During a government conference call overnight Sunday, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan asked to limit protests.
Last Friday, police handed out 35,000-shekel-fines ($10,000) to Israeli protesters against occupation in Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem. Similar fines were given last week to protesters outside the Kfar Saba home of Kahol Lavan lawmaker Gabi Ashkenazi. They said the fines ranged from NIS 475 to 5,000 ($133-$1,400) and vowed not to pay them, accusing police of trying to “suppress the protest with huge fines.”
The “Black Flag” protests first gained recognition in March, when a motorcade of hundreds of cars made its way to Jerusalem to protest anti-democratic measures to combat the virus, including governmental approval of Shin Bet phone tracking of civilians. “It started with the coronavirus, when they the government started passing anti-democratic bills,” said Tamir Hefetz, one of the protest organizers. “I woke up and realized there is no alternative, tomorrow will be too late.” On Thursday, some 2,000 took part in a similar rally in Habima Square in Tel Aviv.