What It’s Really Like at Israel’s Saturday Night Demonstrations
It’s Saturday evening, and as I’ve been doing for many of the last 24 weeks, I will pick up my Israeli flag and head for the city square in Kfar Saba, the small city in which I’ve lived for the past 40 years. There I will join the demonstration against the proposed judicial “reform” which includes an override clause that would allow the smallest possible majority – 61 out of 120 lawmakers in the Knesset – to overturn rulings by the Supreme Court.
I will listen to the speakers scheduled for the night and join everyone else in choruses of “de-mo-cra-tia” and “bousha!” (shame) when the names of those the crowd holds in opprobrium are mentioned.
Knesset Constitution Chairman Simcha Rothman – bousha! Justice Minister Yariv Levin – bousha! And guaranteed to get the biggest rise of all – Bibi Netanyahu. At the mention of his name, horns beep, posters are hoisted, children wave their small flags from their parents’ shoulders. Bousha! Bousha!
I am not a person who regularly demonstrates, or indeed, ever has. My political activism is limited to voting. My only revolt against authority, as far as I can recall, has been crossing a street against a red light when there are no cars coming. The idea of me as a hotheaded revolutionary makes my grandchildren (I have eight) laugh.
And yet, when the demonstrations started months ago, I joined in, and I have continued to come, rain or shine, winter and summer, ever since. When my husband was unable to join me, I came by myself. No problem. I have lots of friends there.
Does this sound like fun? It is, kind of.
After months of demonstrating, a sort of routine has descended. We are creatures of habit, we demonstrators. We tend to hang out at the same place in the plaza every week. Some head for the balcony of the mall which borders one side. Others seek out the low wall separating the stage from the plaza, where if you‘re lucky, you can find a space to lean, or the grassy area near the main street where t-shirts are for sale.
There is a feeling of camaraderie. We smile at faces that have become familiar and catch up with old friends. We are hopeful. Waving an Israeli flag used to be a corny right-wing initiative; today, it is a symbol for “it’s our country too.”
The demonstrations have become better organized. Once, people hung their flags on broomsticks or wrapped them around themselves like shawls. Today, they use bamboo poles, readily available, and some have professionally printed signs, which are quite creative. They include, just to mention a few at random, “Physicians for Democracy”, “Without Democracy, No Academia”, “Brothers and Sisters in Arms” (reservists); “Fighting for the Vision” (with a puppet of Theodor Herzl), “Scan and Take Part”, which rhymes in Hebrew. Someone waves a poster of a cartoon dog, which reads “This is Fine.” I have no idea what it means.
The speakers called in for the occasion have changed too. In the beginning, it seemed as if the organizers took whoever they could cajole into coming to Kfar Saba. Sometimes the pickings were lean, such as the teenager representing a local youth movement (who actually spoke better than most of the adults). These days, the speakers are pretty much well-known. Most recently, for example, they included Lihi Lapid, the author wife of Yair Lapid and Carmi Gillon, former head of Shabak. There was also a rap singer who had composed a few songs for the occasion and who was a big hit with the crowd. I think he might have been famous.
The truth is though, that we don’t give all our attention to the speakers, since they all tend to say the same things. People chat. Once in a while, there are pro forma shouts of “bousha.”
When the demonstrations started, it was winter. Frequently, it was raining and people in puffy jackets held umbrellas in one hand and flags in the other. Now, it’s T-shirt weather. There are other changes too. The original passion has been largely replaced by a sense of determination: it’s important to come. We mustn’t give up.
At nine, the demo is over. Everyone sings Hatikvah and my throat catches. We demonstrators have reclaimed the flag and now also, the anthem.
Time to go home. See you again next Saturday.