Commentary netanyahu protests: fear of erdoğanization

Israel’s opposition has awakened from its state of shock. It protests against the erosion of democracy and intolerance of dissent.

Protests against Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. The headgear Fez stands thereby Turkish conditions Photo: reuters

The protest against Israel’s head of government Benjamin Netanyahu took place in front of the Tel Aviv Museum and not in front of City Hall, as is usually the case, because the organizers feared they would not be able to fill the large square. In the end, however, tens of thousands came. Barely two months after the parliamentary elections, the opposition broke free from the state of shock into which it had fallen over the prospect of a fifth term in office for Netanyahu and its consequences.

Accusations of corruption against a head of government are nothing new in Israel. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had to spend years behind bars because greed made him corrupt, and he was far from the only corrupt politician. The impetus for the mass protests on Saturday was not suspicion of Netanyahu but rather his cowardly attempt to get out of a tight spot by reforming the law at the expense of the separation of powers.

It was the ruthlessness of the still incumbent head of government that mobilized the masses. Netanyahu’s constant undermining of the pillars of democracy – "the only one in the Middle East," as he likes to point out himself – is cause for concern. Many of the demonstrators wore a fez, a head covering common in Turkey, drawing comparisons to the Turkish president. "Erdogan is here," one sign read.

Not quite yet. No government critic risks jail yet. Controversial debates are still possible, although the witch hunt launched from leadership circles is already pushing dissidents into the social sidelines. What is threatening is that the majority is participating in this political bullying, or at least enduring it and watching without doing anything about it.

For far too long, the opposition has left the field to those who want to adapt democracy to their political agenda. The broad protest now gives hope that the camps that stand for freedom and the rule of law will join forces and oppose those who dream of Turkish conditions.