MATI SHEMOELOF gave ten years to activism years ago. Attending the Berlin protests against Netanyahu has rekindled bittersweet memories.
I WAS ALL EXCITED to go the demonstration in Berlin called “Defending Israeli democracy”, which was was announced by Israelis living in Berlin who have watched their fellow Israelis protesting since the start of July in front of Benjamin Nethanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem.
In a previous rally they protested in front of the Israeli embassy. This time they chose the Berlin Wall Memorial, which commemorates the Germans who lost their lives trying to cross the border when the city was split in two. When I arrived at the protest, I saw many flowers laid down in their memory.
About 30 people stood around the memorial on a day when the temperature was over 30 degrees. The police warned the protesters not to come too close to the memorial site. I started imagining that the organisers had maybe moved the protest to the Berlin wall memorial to remind us of the Israeli separation wall between Palestine and Israel.
But when I asked one of the group, the answer was more about democracy: the fall of the Berlin wall was an allegory of the fall of Israeli democracy through corruption.
The protesters shouted: “Bibi go to Jail”, “Bye bye Bibi”, “Bibi nach Hause”, or “Bibi let us people be”, in which Netanyahu the Jew became the Egyptian Pharaoh. One of my favourite slogans was a recitation in Hebrew of the three police cases (called 1000, 2000, 4000) against the prime minister for accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust.
I came as an observer but became one of protesters. I sang the songs, shared videos, and took lots of pictures. The protesters were mainly women, which made it even more powerful. I imagined if Palestinians were also there, like in Israel when Palestinian members of the Knesset Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi joined the protests. They also wanted to undermine the idea that these protests are only Jewish, and they boosted the cause by attracting their voters to come to Jerusalem.
Now, in Berlin the demonstrators brought instruments of percussion, took forks, or hit metal bottles for some real bad and loud sound. This copied the noise that drives the Netanyahu family crazy every week.
The organisers wrote in their bilingual pamphlet: “We believe in freedom, financial stability, peace, and security for all! We believe in a government for the people and by the people, a government that hears and serves the needs of its citizens. To the protesters in Israel, we say – we hear you and we stand with you!”
The sound was real, and maybe our voice was being shared on social media. However, we have left Israel and the country is no longer looking at us as. And the German media did not cover the protest either. Maybe this protest was more about our own need to reassure to each other of our opposition to Netanyahu’s corruption.
The whole time, I thought of my own past involvement with demonstrations. I was deeply involved in the social protests in 2011 in Israel. We had big hopes to not only topple the government but also change the economic situation. Then came 2012 and another war, and to this day the gap between poor and rich grew even larger. I learned the hard way that political change is far away from the noise of the street. In the meantime, democracy in Israel has gone down the drain. So will these protests force Netanyahu to finally resign, or will he remain in office?
On one hand, I want to go back to Israel and be part of the new movement that rises with such power and hope. At the rally, I suddenly remembered how I held the megaphone myself and shouted in front of thousands, and I wanted to give the organisers some tips.
On the other hand, I already gave ten years of my life to activism. They were fulfilling but not very productive workwise. And maybe I am afraid that the same thing will happen once again: The protests disappear and nothing changes. I could not take that a second time.
The article was first published on Plus61J | August 28, 2020