Buoyed by the defection of coalition chairwoman MK Idit Silman to his Likud party — a move that may signal the imminent demise of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s administration — opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu was cheered on by his adoring supporters at a rally in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.
“We came to say one thing to this government: go home!” Netanyahu exclaimed to the crowd. “Go home! Go home, you’re damaging Israel’s Jewish identity... go home, because you’re weak, you’re weak against Iran, and you’re weak against terrorism.”
Right-wing politicians and NGOs organized the rally following a wave of terrorism and the shock announcement by Silman, who walked out of Bennett’s Yamina party early in the day.
“We receive her with a big hug,” Netanyahu said of Silman and her decision to quit the coalition. “People got up this morning with excitement… with light in their eyes.”
Netanyahu praised the crowd, whom he said came from all over Israel, and sounded a call for unity from “secular and religious, north and south, from Judea and Samaria,” to bring in a new government.
“The real prime minister has arrived,” said a protest organizer who preceded Netanyahu on the podium, and who encouraged supporters to make noise on his behalf and to chant out: “Bibi!” and “Am Yisrael Chai!”
As Netanyahu climbed onto stage to the cheers of the thousands that attended, some supporters proclaimed him to be the next prime minister. Netanyahu shunned the protective glass plates in front of the podium and spoke to the crowd unshielded.
Protesters waved a sea of Israeli flags, some wielding signs adorned with Netanyahu’s face, emblazoned with the words “we need a leader.” Others raised placards that proclaimed: “With Bennett and Lapid, we have no future.”
Lone counter-protesters attempted to challenge the former prime minister on alleged corruption and past security policy, but had a minimal presence compared with the ocean of blue and white and supporters.
Speakers made repeated references to the upcoming Passover holiday, and made multiple appeals on the issue of hametz food being allowed into hospitals, which was why Silman, an observant Jew, decided to quit.
“Why is this night different from other nights?” Shlomo Ne’eman, regional council head of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, asked the crowd, going on to chastise the government for restricting Jewish settlement buildup.
Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich, Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir and other politicians were also in attendance.
Promotional posters for the protest warned that “Israel is bleeding,” and decried the settlement construction freeze “and the Palestinian takeover of open land on the way to the establishment of a Palestinian state that invites murderous terrorism.”