A hundred thousand Israelis protested on Saturday night, May 25, proposed legislation that would grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution on a series of corruption charges. The protesters outside the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on called for protecting Israel’s democratic sphere against far-right government overreach.
The demonstrators rallied against legislation being pushed by Netanyahu’s incoming coalition to shield him from criminal prosecution as well as restricting the power of the Supreme Court.
Speakers at the protest included Kahol Lavan chairman MK Benny Gantz, Kahol Lavan co-chairman MK Yair Lapid, Kahol Lavan MK Moshe Ya’alon, Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh, Labor chairman MK Avi Gabbay, Meretz’s chairwomen MK Tamar Zandberg, Kahol Lavan’s MK Ofer Shelah, retired Arab-Druze general Amal Assad and attorney Sagit Peretz Deri.
MK Odeh told the gathered masses that efforts to safeguard Israeli democracy amid brewing initiatives by the incoming coalition to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution would only be possible when Jewish and Arab citizens work and struggle together. Addressing the crowd, Odeh said, “I am here today because I believe that Jewish-Arab partnership is the only way to achieve hope and change.” “Arab citizens alone cannot enact change, but without us it is impossible,” the Hadash MK continued. “I am here today because I believe that without equality there is no democracy.”
Odeh was a last-minute addition to the Saturday evening lineup of speakers after a phone call hours earlier with Gantz, whose party was the primary organizer of the rally. On Friday, Haaretz reported that after Odeh accepted a formal invitation to address demonstrators last week, he was told that “the list of speakers was already closed and there was no room for additional ones.”
The organizers of the protest, which bills itself as a pro-democracy rally, included all Jewish opposition parties – Kahol Lavan, Labor and Meretz – but not Hadash and the Arab parties. The rally was the first time since the April 9 election that Israel’s opposition parties joined forces.
After significant criticism that no Arab was included in the rally, Gantz called Odeh several hours before it was to begin and asked him to address the demonstrators. “The struggle against Netanyahu’s attempts to destroy the democratic space is a joint struggle that all democratic forces share,” Odeh wrote in a post on his official Twitter handle. “We won’t have an alternative for a corrupt and destructive regime without broad cooperation by all citizens, Jews and Arabs. Only thus will we be able to replace the regime, only thus will we be able to pose an alternative to his destructive policy.”
Meretz chairwoman Zandberg tweeted that “there is no democracy without equality and the struggle for democracy cannot be for Jews only.” She added “all opposition members will be on stage tonight.” Labor’s MK Shelly Yacimovich tweeted that “a protest without Arabs is surrender to racism and to the incitement from the right.”