Israeli Protesters Illustrate How to Dissent During a Pandemic
Israel is showing the world how citizens can dissent amidst the Covid19 pandemic. Standing two meters apart, more than 2,800 mask-clad protesters in Tel Aviv showed up on the streets to protest the rampant corruption in the Benjamin Netanyahu administration. The April 19 anti-corruption rally showed the country’s left-wing activists — Netanyahu’s political opposition — along with his former Defence Minister waving black flags in the capital’s Rabin Square. The protest created a visual that quickly swept social media, serving as an example of a social distance-protest in the time of coronavirus.
Currently facing trial on corruption charges, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been embroiled in a scandal since December 2018, which involves accounts of him taking bribes from rich businessmen in return for political favors. In the interim, Israel has witnessed three elections, all of which failed to produce a conclusive victory for Netanyahu or his political opponents. Before the country could gear up for an inevitable fourth election, news emerged about Netanyahu having formed a unity government with one of his political opponents, Blue and White liberal political alliance leader Benny Gantz. Experts say this coalition will help Netanyahu stay in power and possibly evade prosecution on pre-existing corruption charges, making him Israel’s longest-serving leader to date.
Enraged at Gantz’s shift in allegiance, Member of Parliament Yair Lapid — who defected from the Blue and White party in March — told protesters, “You don’t fight corruption from within. If you’re inside, you’re part of it. We are here to say that we will never give in. Too many good people have already surrendered,” CNN reported.
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Criticizing the loophole that experts think will let indicted Netanyahu extend his prime ministership, Lapid added, “That’s how democracies die in the 21st century. They’re not wiped out by tanks overrunning parliament. They die from within because good people were silent and weak people surrendered. From the outside everything looks exactly the same. The parliaments stand in the same place, the police band plays the same anthem, the leader hasn’t changed. He looks the same, he sounds the same, but it isn’t a democracy anymore.”
The “Black Flag” protest was organized as Israel is slowly lifting social distancing measures across the country, giving dissenters an avenue to re-elevate concerns that had to be put on hold in light of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. As countries consider lifting lockdowns in certain parts of the world, the Israel protest provides a framework for public dissent in what experts portend as an increasingly socially distanced future.
Israel shows the Covid19 pandemic cannot maintain a permanent pause on issues plaguing the world’s institutions. The problems will remain; we simply need to find a way for the dissent to follow.