Senior Kaplan Force activist Nadav Galon was glued to his phone last Monday, but not for anything trivial – he was involved in planning a protest for later that week. Activism by phone app has become essential to bringing people out to the streets.
The anti-judicial reform protests have grown not just in their scope and size, but also in the sophistication of their operations, tactics and strategy. Regardless of which side of the overhaul debate one falls on, the success of the anti-reform protest movement is undeniable. Demonstrators were able to bring the entire country to a halt in March and pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into stopping the passing of the Judicial Selection Committee bill.
Undoubtedly, the methods of Israel's anti-reform activists can serve as a model for other movements at home and abroad.
The old anti-Netanyahu protest groups return
Kaplan was developed from the Black Flags and Crime Minister protest groups that rallied against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2020. Protests had been planned ahead of the January 5 hearing on petitions calling for the removal of Shas chairman Arye Deri from his ministerial positions due to his criminal past, said Galon. Justice Minister Yariv Levin had announced his reform proposal the day before, and a spontaneous protest erupted, which Black Flags and Crime Minister joined.
The first protest of around 30,000 people at Tel Aviv's Habima Square was a success, but Galon shared that they were concerned about safety due to overcrowding. Protesters had overflowed into nearby streets. That's why planners moved to Kaplan Street. The groups were rebranded in May over the success of the protests, and their synonymity with the street.
"Kaplan is a symbol," said Galon.
The formation of a Protest HQ
Soon dozens of groups eventually began to pop up to protest against the judicial reform. It wasn't just long-existing rights and interest groups – small groups by profession, location, and other demographics rallied, often through pre-existing community WhatsApp and Telegram groups and channels. Ariana, a Technion student and local Student Protest organizer, said that connections were made through friends and colleagues.
Kaplan had become a center for protest groups, but to provide some direction to the myriad of protest groups, veteran activists and political operatives organized a protest headquarters. The Protest HQ, Hofshei B'Artzenu, was developed by a nonprofit called Future Blue and White, which is co-chaired by Ehud Barak's former chief of staff Gilad Sher, ex-Shin Bet (Israel Securit Agency) head Ami Yaalon, and entrepreneur Orni Petruschka. According to Bloomberg, Hofshi B’Artzenu has a steering committee with former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, and former Barak Prime Minister’s Office head Yossi Kucik.
The Protest HQ gathers funds, coordinates events between groups, and helps organization, explained Galon. The different groups aid one another, but they have the autonomy to act how they choose. The Protest HQ serves as a broad umbrella coalition for a great many different ideologies and interests, and clashes have inevitably risen. Galon said that they speak privately about their dissent. Hi-Tech Protest activist Amir Breiner said that groups are free to not involve themselves in projects they disagree with.
"The protest movement doesn't have one commander," said Breiner.
While Saturday nights are the main protest event each week, the many different groups allow for multiple events and projects to be held throughout the week to raise media attention to advertise the post-Shabbat protest and keep the momentum going, said Galon.
Many of these protests are planned in response to some new info discovered – and shared through social media – or an initiative by one of the groups. Galon said that the next step is to decide the message that they want to get across. Discussions are held between different groups to see who can be involved, and once plans are finalized, they publish and distribute the schedules and instructions through messaging apps. The instructions include what to bring, give a briefing on the objective and motivation, and give rules such as non-violence. Once the protests are held, there needs to be continued communication and work to maintain the event and treat unforeseen problems. After the protest, the activists do a debrief – figuring out "what worked, what didn't work," said Galon, and how they can improve for next time.
The successful pop-up protest groups
One of the most successful of profession-based pop-up protest groups is the Hi-Tech Protest.
Breiner, who coordinates nationally between local Hi-tech protest groups, explained that the success of the Hi-Tech Protest was that they already had the tools to organize through their business experience. They were able to develop departments; a strategy department, a national liaison for local branches, a communications department, and Human Resources to recruit – although recruitment wasn't difficult.
"People contact us to ask how they can protest," said Breiner.
The different groups all work together and have good synergy, said Breiner. Galon explained how the different groups used their comparative advantages to further the movement, such as doctors groups providing first aid, and groups like Black Robes helping with legal issues.
The Hi-Tech group used its comparative advantage in planning and technology to aid others. They provide advice on how smaller groups can organize. Coding teams can help other groups with websites. Another group helped advise on tech privacy, and another developed an app to keep phones filming protests and police action even while off to save battery.
The Hi-Tech group has 100-150 activists who are contributing at least 2 hours of work to the protest movement, like a second job.
The Student Protest brings its own comparative advantage, finding ways that they can best be involved with their youthful vigor, such as getting involved in drumming circles and creating protest art installations.
"There's a lot to be done, but a lot of people to do it," said Ariana.
Ariana said that as students, they have a diverse camp with different styles and diversity, allowing them to be creative. One project being developed is to create a team to speak to people that may disagree with the protest. Ariana related how one protester had heard a police officer remark how they should throw a stun grenade, but she spoke to the policeman and explained her position, and de-escalated the situation.
The students have branches at a few dozen universities, with different WhatsApp groups, and have occasional meetings to plan and brainstorm, teach each other about the situation and distribute relevant research -- and share memes. The students make them not blow off steam, and make their point about the reform on social media, another important front in the debate.
"What's most important to me is that people have a place to belong and share their ideas," said Ariana.
This sense of solidarity extends to when students get arrested. They make a point of going to precincts where protesters are arrested to show them support.
Breiner hoped that the protests would lead to a wave of democratic revival across the world. They were already learning and teaching activists internationally. Galon said they had learned what had worked and what didn't in Hungary and Poland.
Galon put his phone on the table, having just sent another message, furthering along the planned protest. They had created a network of individuals and groups aligned by one objective, each providing their own unique talents to the cause and comparative advantage to complete tasks no one leadership or group could hope to solve – they had crowdsourced a whole protest movement by text message.
"Everything is here," Galon said, tapping his phone.
In this weekend's Jerusalem Post Magazine issue, the topic of organization will be further explored with a focus on how the protests are being funded.