Exacerbated by perceived government corruption on an unprecedented scale, tens of thousands of protesters flocked to Tel Aviv’s Rothchild Blvd. Saturday night for a third consecutive week to demand transparency and accountability among elected officials.
Holding a bullhorn, Amit Zilberg, 38, a self-professed “centrist attorney,” noted the anti-corruption movement has gained significant traction nationally, with at least 15 other protests taking place Saturday throughout the country, including in Jerusalem.
“They should be protesting all over the country,” he said, as streams of people continued to congregate at the closed-off section of the upscale boulevard as police oversaw all activity.
“The corruption is everywhere,” he continued. “Here it is too much – every [politician] in every city is corrupt and the opposition is not fighting the right way. They need to fight harder; that’s why tens of thousands are out here to help them keep fighting.”
Ori Betsalel, 64, has participated in all three weekly protests in Tel Aviv, despite living in Nahariya, the northernmost coastal city in the country.
“I keep coming because I am disappointed by the corruption,” he said. “There are too many things and they are trying to make rules for themselves to avoid investigations. This is way beyond what I can tolerate.”
Moreover, Betsalel, who attended Saturday night’s protest with his daughter, Einat, deemed the level of perceived corruption to be “unprecedented,” and therefore transcending political leanings.
“This is not a question about right or left,” he said. “This is a question about almost total corruption.”
Einat, a 34-year-old resident of Jaffa, said the protests are long overdue.
“I’m happy people are finally waking up after sleeping for a long time,” she said. “The public can no longer sleep because they realize that a line has been crossed by the government that made them finally understand that the government is not really for them – that they are for themselves.”
Einat continued: “And more people realize they can do something about it.”
Recalling the unusually large turnout during the 2011 economic protests in the same area that resulted in “tent cities” for large stretches of Rothchild Blvd., she said a similarly galvanizing response is underway regarding corruption.
“There is a power sleeping in this country, and when it rises up, it rises with a lot of power,” Betsalel said. “So, I am here to make this power bigger.”
In response to the demonstration today Education Minister Naftali Bennet tweeted images of protestors in Tel - Aviv carrying a fake guillotine with the caption: "The protests in and of themselves are legitimate, but this sort of madness must stop."
Meanwhile, a few meters away, near where Rothchild Blvd. begins, a group of roughly seven male and female counter-protesters – protected by metal barriers and police – used megaphones of their own to support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu.
Elad, a 32-year-old high-tech worker who asked that his last name not be published for fear of reprisal, said the huge adjacent anti-government group of protesters is being unfair to the prime minister.
“They seem to have this urgency to convict Netanyahu without a trial, and that is very not liberal,” he said, adding that he believes the collective anger is strictly politically based.
“Secondly, the police should not be able to recommend indictments of political officials because 60% are thrown in the garbage, and all the while the lives of the people who are being investigated is ruined. They lose their careers; maybe he even lose their families.”
Elad continued: “It’s a system of getting rid of people you don’t want in politics.”
The guillotine was used during the French Revolution to behead members of the nobility class, as the revolution progressed the device was turned against the people who directed the upheaval of French society such as Maximilien Robespierre, who was himself decapitated in the same manner in 1794. Hagay Hacohen contributed to this report.