Mass demonstrations against Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's hard-right prime minister, have continued, as the country lurches towards its fourth election in two years.
Following a previous wave of anti-Netanyahu protests which highlighted the corruption allegations against him, due to come to court in January, the latest mobilisations have focused on his mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic, where a precipitous easing of lockdown measures and inadequate social provision has seen both infections and unemployment spike massively.
An article in the left-wing 972 magazine notes that, although Palestinian citizens of Israel are still not attending the protests in significant numbers, left-wing activists are finding it easier to raise issues of racism, equality between Jews and Arabs, and the occupation than in previous upheavals around social and economic questions inside Israel, such as the 2011 Occupy movement around housing.
The writer Oren Ziv observes: “The anti-occupation bloc, comprising several hundred protesters, are not on the margins of the demonstrations. Last Saturday night, for example, it was possible to hear them chanting 'Justice for Iyad' [a Palestinian man murdered by Israeli police] at the Prime Minister’s residence, even as Israeli riot police were forcefully dispersing the crowd.
“In contrast to countless instances over the past decade, in which left-wing protesters have tried to insert radical messaging into mainstream demonstrations and been met with rejection or violence, this time, the response was very different [...]
“This was even more pronounced during the protest last Thursday. The organizers set up a stage outside Netanyahu’s home, where Neta Wiener and Samira Saraya, two members of the Israeli-Palestinian hip hop troupe System Ali, performed in front of thousands. 'The pain is the same, the voice of Iyad al-Hallaq is the voice of George Floyd,' sang Saria, 'I haven’t been able to breathe for 72 years, tell me how much more is possible?' The crowd cheered and applauded. 'The truth is that I was surprised, I expected them to boo us', Saraya said after the show.”
Recent polling shows that Netanyahu's right-wing bloc would win a majority were elections called, but that could begin to shift as protests continue, and with any prospective election due to take place in November, much could change.
Whether elections will be held could be decided by 25 August, if the coalition government helmed by Netanyahu and Benny Gantz, the “centrist” who leads the Blue and White party, fails to pass a budget. The terms of the coalition mandate that it must pass a two-year budget, but Netanyahu has signalled that he is only prepared to pass a one-year budget. Unless either he or Gantz back down, the coalition could break up, making elections inevitable.
Tensions within the ruling coalition, agreed between Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right Likud party and Benny Gantz's centre-right Blue and White party in May, and also involving Avigdor Lieberman's secular far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party and various religious fundamentalist groups, have also stalled Netanyahu's plans to annex Palestinian territories to Israel, his flagship policy. With protests demanding his resignation for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic growing, and his trial for corruption set to resume, Netanyahu sees fresh elections as a way to regroup and consolidate power.
A majority government would allow him to retake control of the justice ministry, potentially vital ahead of court proceedings that could rule him unfit for office, and before witnesses begin testifying in his trial, currently due to commence in January.
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has strongly opposed the idea of new elections, calling it a “terrible option.”
On 30 July, around 200 LGBTQ+ Palestinians held a protest for equal rights in Haifa, after a trans Palestinian teenager was stabbed outside a LGBT shelter in Tel Aviv the previous week. The protest raised slogans and demands for equality within Arab communities, and against the Israeli occupation and racism.
Jawarah, a Palestinian activist involved in the protest, told 972: “Arab-Palestinians are already on the margins of society due to the state’s oppression, so a person who also carries a different gender identity – both the government and his own society work against him.”
The protest was also supported by Aida Touma-Sliman, an Arab member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, from the left-wing Hadash party, which forms part of the Joint List electoral bloc with Arab parties. There has been some controversy over the issue of LGBTQ+ rights within the Joint List recently, as only three of the Joint List MKs present, all from Hadash, voted in favour of a bill proposing to ban so-called “conversion therapy” for gay people.
Also speaking to 972, Palestinian feminist activist Nisreen Mazzawi highlighted the dual struggle LGBTQ+ Palestinians face: “In Palestinian society, you cannot free LGBTQ people if you don’t accept their queerness. In the same way, in Israeli organisations, you cannot free LGBTQ Palestinians if you reject their Palestinianess.”