Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night to
voice their demand for universal enlistment in the army or in civilian national
service, in the largest protest of the summer to date, and the biggest show of
force since the “Camp Sucker” movement began six months ago.
began with a march from Camp Sucker’s faux military base south of the Arlozorov
train station to the Tel Aviv Museum Plaza, where a small crowd of around 2,000
made their way to the protest, chanting, “One people, one draft” and “Bibi
[Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu], you promised, now do it!” among other
slogans tying the issue of universal service to the cause of social
“Something is rotten in Israeli politics,” former Shin Bet
(Israel Security Agency) director Yuval Diskin said from the stage. He said the
day is coming where the majority of Israelis will not serve their
Diskin, who has been very critical of Netanyahu and Defense
Minister Ehud Barak in recent months, added that he doesn’t feel like a sucker
for having served, calling it a privilege. He also said that he and others are
tired of their money going to support people who do not serve. A roar of
applause greeted his words.
The demonstrators did not appear to be from
the usual Tel Aviv protest group, and were made up largely of suburban families,
couples and students from around the Tel Aviv area. There were very few
national-religious protesters, probably due to the fact that the protest was
held soon after Shabbat ended.
Rehovot resident Tamir Shafir, 39, carried
his eightyear- old son Ido atop his shoulders during the march, and said that he
came after nearly two decades of serving in an elite IDF unit.
don’t change by the time he [Ido] turns 18, I won’t want him to serve in the
army,” Shafir said.
The protest came after Netanyahu tried on Monday to
dissolve the Keshev Committee, which was tasked with finding ways to draft the
ultra-Orthodox and Israeli Arabs into the army or national service.
and center at the crowd stood Israel Cohen, an 80-year-old double amputee,
leaning his metal prosthetic arms over the barricade.
Cohen said he lost
his arms in an explosion toward the end of the Six Day War, when his infantry
unit was clearing a house in a hostile village outside Nablus.
he came to the protest from Ramat Gan to show his support for universal
mandatory service, “something that should have been done years ago, and
something that Bibi can do today with the 94-seat coalition he
Cohen said the public debate is an opportunity for change to
happen. “I’m very happy this is finally turning around; the army is for all of
the people and all of the people must be for the army,” he said.
march drew more than a dozen organizations, from both the Left and the Right, as well as the National Union of Israeli Students and several groups devoted to
religious freedom and to helping reservists and discharged soldiers. The protest
was billed as nonpolitical and nonpartisan, though there were many posters and
signs for Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid party, and its activists were out in force
handing out T-shirts from the nascent political movement.
Toward the end
of the rally, Annette Haskiyah, an Israeli-Arab mother from Kfar Vradim, spoke
of the need for also implementing universal service in the Arab sector, and used
the example of her children who have served in the IDF, including a son who is
now joining the Golani Infantry Brigade.
“I call on Israeli Arabs: Leave
your ghetto, go out into the streets and stop being silent, bitter and
discriminated against. You have an opportunity to protest against racism and
discrimination; don’t listen to Arab MKs, they are leading you into an abyss,”
Haskiyeh, a Muslim, also spoke in Arabic and talked about what
the army has done for her four children, all of whom served, she said, and met
amazing people during their time in the army.
Former IDF chiefs Gabi Ashkenazi and Dan Halutz attended the protest, as well as former deputy IDF chief Moshe Kaplinsky and former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin.