150,000 call on Olmert, Peretz to resign
TA rally organizer Dayan: "Democracy has returned to its grass roots."
By AMIR MIZROCH, HAVIV RETTIG
May 3, 2007 18:21
Rabin sq rally 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Buoyed by what they said was a crowd of more than 200,000 Israelis from across the political spectrum who gathered in Kikar Rabin on Thursday night to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, rally organizers said they were planning a series of events with the same goal and would not stop until the prime minister had gone.
Police put the crowd at 150,000.
The event's main organizer, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Dayan, told the crowd that "Democracy is in danger." The very committee that the prime minister established, Dayan said, had "stood before him and bravely said, 'Mr. Olmert, you have failed.'"
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Yet Olmert was refusing to recognize his personal responsibility as made plain by the findings of that committee - the Winograd interim report on the Second Lebanon War. And thus, said Dayan, he was undermining the foundations of democracy. "We must stand today in the name of democracy and say, 'No more.'"
Asked by The Jerusalem Post about the intended impact of the rally, Dayan responded: "The event is about what happened here tonight... Tonight's event has shown that democracy has returned to its grass roots - the town square," adding that it is in the town square where "people are hanged."
The rally's organizers said that they had set up a headquarters whose mission was to force Olmert to resign and that they "would not give up" until it was accomplished.
They said that they did not have "a daily agenda" but that the next major event would coincide with the publication of the protocols of the Winograd testimonies of Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Dan Halutz, expected later this month.
A third event is scheduled to take place when the final report is published, in some two or three months, they said.
Although the prime minister "may survive just one night," the organizers said in reference to the rally, they planned to keep the momentum going, producing a snowball effect.
Renowned author Meir Shalev drew cheers from the crowd when he called on the government to resign: "You have failed. Go home," he exclaimed.
"You have ruined the chances of the captured soldiers' return. You have wasted life and wasted the health of the wounded soldiers," Shalev told the crowd.
"This is what war looks like when the leaders are corrupt," he continued. "This is what war looks like when the IDF is busy at checkpoints and guarding illegal outposts."
Rain had initially threatened the gathering, but as the rally kicked off at 7 p.m., the showers subsided and Kikar Rabin filled up.
Hundreds of policemen were deployed to secure the event, and Ibn Gvirol Street was packed for a block in both directions from the square.
Meretz, Likud and NU-NRP used their party networks and institutions to call supporters to the rally - underlining the unique representation from across the political spectrum, even though the speakers themselves were not serving politicians.
The Likud sent several dozen busloads of supporters from offices and branches across the country, while NU-NRP made 7,000 phone calls and sent 1,000 text messages as part of its mobilization effort. The rally was marked by support from right and left, with Meretz slogans alongside posters blaming the war's outcome on the disengagement from Gaza. Some 10,000 students were also present.
Head of the reservists' movement Roni Tzvangenboim, who has been campaigning since last summer for Olmert and Peretz to quit, told the Post that even if this duo maintained their refusal to resign, the public activism would mean that MKs around them would "feel the pressure of being part of a bad government" and would hopefully try to act to overthrow the two leaders.
"We saw over the past few days what pressure can do," said Tzvangenboim. "We saw what happened to Eitan Cabel and other ministers and to [Foreign Minister] Tzipi Livni before she lost her nerve."
Cabel resigned as a minister-without-portfolio after the Winograd Committee's interim report was published on Monday.
Tzvangenboim said that he and his fellow reservists had nothing against Olmert's Kadima and Peretz's Labor party, but that "if there are elections, then so be it."
"What we are asking for is responsible leadership," exclaimed Tzvangenboim. "We'll carry on with whatever we have to do until Olmert and Peretz resign. You don't stop when going forward; we learned this in the army."
Bradley and Tali, a married couple visiting from Australia, told the Post that they had attended the rally because they were worried about how the rest of the world viewed Israel.
"It amazes me the way things work in Israel," said Bradley. "In Australia, we have a different system where there is more attention to propriety and responsibility. If you do something wrong you must resign. I'm not talking about getting a parking ticket but something serious. People must have confidence in you."
During the rally, a minute-long silence in honor of the soldiers who fell in the Second Lebanon War was interrupted by a shrill scream by a man who said: "May it soon happen to you, Olmert."
Labor MK Ami Ayalon, who is running for his party's chairmanship, told reporters at the rally that he was not there to deliver a speech, but "as a citizen." He commended the healthy state of Israel's democracy, saying that one could always tell when a democracy was in trouble if, despite polls and surveys showing a lack of faith in the leadership, demonstrations were empty.
"But the square is full," he said with satisfaction. "Israel is a small country, so if 200,000 people come to the square, it's the equivalent of millions in a larger country."
Tomer Bohardana, who was wounded in the Second Lebanon War and is famous for flashing a "victory" sign as he was unloaded off a helicopter into Haifa's Rambam Hospital, said the slogan of the rally - "Failures, go home" - was not good enough.
"It doesn't go deep enough," said Bohardana. "Our apathy is harming us."
Student leader Yakir Segev said that the rally would only be a success if there was a follow-through and if "this night manages to ignite and capture the mood of the general public."
Eliad Shraga, head of the Movement for Quality Government, said that in a normal country "this would be unnecessary."
"I am sad about the rally, not happy. In a normal country [the leaders] would have submitted their resignations an hour after receiving the war report. I don't think Olmert will leave the morning after the rally, but the demonstration proves he is on borrowed time," Shraga said.
Labor MK Danny Yatom, who was one of the central figures singled out in the Winograd Report, told the Post that the "Labor party must leave this government."
Earlier Thursday, political sources told the Post that Olmert and his advisers believed that the prime minister could survive the months until the release of the final Winograd report and that their strategy was to implement the first report's recommendations "to the letter."
They said the "number one task" was to show that the recommendations were being implemented.
The sources said that they did not believe that when the final report was released, the committee would call on Olmert to quit. Even if it did, the sources added, the prime minister and his associates would be able to counter the demand by saying they were in the midst of carrying out all of the recommendations.