Tucked into the emergency regulations the government approved to fight the coronavirus pandemic that went into effect Sunday morning was the following:
“Do not leave a place of residence or any other permanent place for a public space except in the following cases: An employee going and returning from work; Buying food, medicine and vital products and getting vital services; Getting health care; Donating blood; Demonstrations ...”
At a time when breathless voices are warning of an end to Israel's democracy, the inclusion of demonstrations in the list of activities for which leaving one's house is permitted is telling.
Sure, those demonstrations must be limited to 10 people, at least a two meter distance must be kept between one protestor and the next, and the protestors should not link arms, but this is one form of activity that the government has determined is essential and must be allowed, even during a time of a national emergency.
“Vote Bibi, get Erdogan,” Blue and White used as a central slogan in the recent election campaign. And, in the midst of all the problematic shenanigans taking place in the Knesset surrounding the election of a new Knesset speaker and establishment of Knesset committees, key party spokesman – and others – have said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is essentially turning the lights out on Israeli Democracy, and that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is already here.
Granted, Turkey is not exactly a high bar when it comes to democracy, but since the comparison between Erdoagan and Netanyahu is increasingly being made, take a look at how many demonstrations the Turkish leader has allowed when he declared various states of emergency in his country. Even without a crisis, Turkey is not exactly a protestor's paradise.
Israel, even in a time of crisis, is.
On Monday, even as much of the country remained holed up in their homes for yet another day of long distance learning and kids crawling up the walls, hundreds of people – driving in cars from the center of the country to Jerusalem – took part in a protest to demonstrate what they said were the anti-democratic moves taken by Netanyahu and his transition government.
And by taking to the streets, the protestors were acting – as long as there were no more than two people at once in a car – in accordance with the emergency regulations. The convoy of hundreds of cars – some of them draped with black flags – started on Route 6 and slowly drove, horns blaring, to the Knesset.
Like balcony and staircase minyanim (prayer quorums) currently flourishing across the land, this caravan car protest is a creative way to carry on. And just as you can't keep Jews from finding a way to pray, you also can't – apparently -- keep Israelis from finding a way to protest.
And this caravan protest was not even the most creative way that some demonstrators have found to express themselves during a time when large rallies are banned -- not, Turkey-like, because the government wants to quelch criticism, but because these rallies might further spread the disease.
On Sunday, protestors placed black flags alongside the Israeli flag at key national sites representing Israel’s democracy: David Ben-Gurion's grave at Sde Boker, Chaim Weizman's house in Rehovot, and the Armored Corps Memorial Site monument at Latrun. And on Saturday evening a “virtual rally” took place on Facebook, with estimates of participants ranging from 50,000 to 600,000 listening to speeches about the gathering threat to Israeli democracy.
The theme of the rally: “A black flag is flying over the actions of the indicted prime minister.”
And the response from the Netanyahu camp: calls for people on Sunday to take to their porches and doorsteps and applaud the prime minister, much as they did last week for the country's health providers.
Netanyahu posted a video on his Facebook page of people on apartment porches, and in their living rooms, chanting his praises, clapping and singing, “Bibi, King of Israel.”
“Thank you very much, Israeli citizens, you moved me greatly,” he wrote.
What these various acts of demonstration show is that even when largely confined to their homes, even in a time of crisis, even amid apocalyptic warnings of an end to Isareli democracy, you can't shut-up the Israelis. They will make their voices heard – one way or another.