student demo 2 .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
"Failures, go home" read the banner hanging from scaffolding over Tel Aviv's Kikar Rabin on Wednesday.
The organizers of a rally to be held there Thursday night hope hundreds of thousands of disgruntled Israelis will show up and compel Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign.
Dry leaves flutter in a warm breeze, women chat on a bench, girls share an ice cream cone alongside the square's giant inverted pyramid, and two people, a middle-aged woman and an elderly man, sit quietly under a tree holding a homemade sign that reads, "Olmert, the prime failure."
Two slogans on either end of the quiet pedestrian square - one an expensive banner placed by media-savvy campaigners, another a homemade poster drawn artfully on cardboard. Together, they represent two components of the public's desire to replace the current leadership.
With the participation of groups such as the Movement for Quality Government, Tafnit, the Organization of Northern Border Communities, and reservists angry about the failures of last summer's war, the rally marks the first public test of the resonance of the campaigners' message.
Will the Winograd Committee interim report change the relatively quiet public reaction to Olmert's perceived failures during the war? Will Israelis, who have expressed bitter frustration at the government in polls, flock to the streets in a serious way?
"Am I a prophet?" says Tamar Mannes, a musician from Tel Aviv who is holding the homemade sign. "Nobody knows what Israelis will do, and anyone who says they know is lying. But Winograd was right that the public is angry. So here I am with my sign. I'm the public."
"Look, it's amazing how much people don't like Olmert," Mannes adds. "Little kids are feeling it too. I've been sitting in this square since [Tuesday] morning, and at least 2,000 people have passed by congratulating me just for holding this sign. Stranger still, not one person stopped to argue with it."
A bearded man sees Mannes's sign and asks, "Did the committee turn in the recommendations?"
"Have you been living in a cave?" someone answers back, adding that the Winograd Report severely criticized Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz and former chief of General Staff Dan Halutz. "That's why there's a rally tomorrow."
"I'll be there," the man says.
"Everyone is tired, so very tired," says another woman. "You feel something big is happening but people aren't sure what. Everything is bubbling under the surface, but everyone's also busy with their jobs and their own lives."
The organizers say no MKs have been invited to speak at the rally. But popular musicians will perform, including Aviv Gefen, Subliminal, Gilad Segev and Nimrod Lev.
For students, the rally will mark a change of direction for their activism. While demonstrations over the past three weeks have centered on their higher education demands, or Olmert's refusal to meet with their unions, at their rally Wednesday in Tel Aviv some participants called for Olmert to resign.
Shouting "Olmert resign," hundreds of students clashed with policemen near Rokach junction on the Ayalon Highway. Thirty-three students were arrested for briefly stopping traffic. But the central message for the student activists was no longer tuition.
"From the beginning, it was about more than that," said Judea and Samaria College in Ariel psychology student Yehuda Duhan, who was at the rally with many friends from the student union. "The call for Olmert to resign comes from the general spirit of the entire nation."
According to Amir, a music education student at Tel Aviv University and a reservist in a Northern Command reconnaissance unit, "We've been on a strike for three weeks, and Olmert hasn't lifted a finger. I'm both a student and a reservist. In how many ways is Olmert going to ignore me?"
As the rally dispersed in the late afternoon, another student, wearing a red protest T-shirt that was the uniform of the demonstrators, said: "You just can't avoid the fact that the public is sick of this government."
"It's true," said another student. "And if you're going to be in government, you have to be willing to pay the price of mistakes."
By Thursday night, one man in Kikar Rabin said, "we'll know what the people are thinking and if this government can survive."