Israelis will head to the polls next week for the fourth time in less than two years, looking to finally resolve the nation's ongoing political crisis. Yet the center-left bloc opposed to the continued reign of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite posting impressive achievements in the previous three rounds, seems more splintered than ever as the fateful day approaches.
On Saturday night, 48 hours before the polls open, a final, massive rally is planned for outside Netanyahu's official residence in central Jerusalem, aimed at motivating voters and driving them to the polls on Tuesday.
Though not affiliated with any specific party, the demonstration is organized by anti-Netanyahu activists, who have been staging similar protests outside Netanyahu's home – and across Israel – every Saturday for the past ten months.
"People will be at the bridges and intersections, like always, and since this could be the final protest, we hope there will be more than usual," Shikma Bressler, a senior scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science and one of the founders of the Black Flag protest movement, told The Media Line.
"As long as Israel's democracy is facing an existential threat, we'll be there. The past three rounds, the group that understood that Netanyahu poses that threat, was the majority," Bressler said.
"Today those numbers are even bigger,” she said, including people who have switched from Netanyahu’s camp.
Right-wing candidates Gideon Saar and Naftali Bennett, both former close allies of the prime minister, have in the current election cycle vowed to replace Netanyahu, with Saar going as far as promising to not join any future Netanyahu coalition.
"If all those people go out and vote, we can make a change," Bressler said.
Yet not everyone is hurrying to RSVP for Saturday night's event.
"It’s a mistake. It's foolish. It's shooting ourselves in the foot," Ofer, 30, who says he has attended nearly every weekly protest over the past year, told The Media Line.
Several of the movement's most ardent supporters have in recent days implored organizers to call the whole thing off, afraid such a rally will only serve to antagonize Netanyahu supporters and fuel the Likud party's ranks ahead of Election Day.
"Our end goal is to remove [Netanyahu] from office. That's what it's all been about. So, what's the point of this?" Ofer said. "It's not going to get anyone on our side who wasn’t planning on voting, to vote. It'll only get Netanyahu's people out."
Social media has been rife with similar discussions and arguments, with dozens of protesters insisting the smart move would be to remain at home and not stir the pot on the final pre-election weekend.
Others have wondered why the protest movement, which has taken credit for unseating the latest government and forcing renewed elections, has not disbanded already.
"People don’t remember this, but we took to the streets last year before the current government was formed," Bressler recalls."There was still a transition government after three undecided rounds, the pandemic had just started, the Knesset chairman refused to abide by a Supreme Court ruling, no parliament committees were formed to oversee government decisions, and the prime minister's criminal trial was put on hold."
Netanyahu is facing charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The trial's witness-testimony phase is scheduled to begin in April.
"We feared that an indicted prime minister would make decisions based solely on his personal motives, and not with the public's good in mind. We've been proven right," Bressler said, adding: "As long as that is the case, we'll be here. We have no choice."
According to the latest polls, Tuesday's elections will be another close affair, with both camps nearing, though not surpassing, the 61-seat threshold needed to form a viable ruling coalition.
As for concerns that Saturday's rally will have the opposite of its intended effect, Bressler admits that "no one can tell what the future holds."
"We didn’t know what would happen at any stage, so there's no point worrying or playing guessing games now. If everyone who is concerned about this country votes, we'll be fine," she said.