Israel’s Covid infection rates are currently among the highest in the world. The government response was a second lockdown, with devastating consequences such as an unemployment rate that is now at 12 percent and which primarily affects young Israelis and women. Domestic violence is widespread and has ended in an exceptional number of murders this year, partly due of the high proliferation of small arms. The victims are predominantly women from new immigrant groups and Palestinian women whose communities are chronically neglected by the state. In August, the rape of a 16-year-old girl made the headlines. Kochi was also sexually harassed by police during a demonstration. The security forces, which have been trained for decades to deal with Palestinians in an extremely brutal manner, tend to take a harsh approach to the predominately peaceful protesters while tolerating attacks and sexism by counter-demonstrators.
In late September, the government issued new corona regulations under which a maximum of 20 people were allowed to demonstrate together, and this at a maximal distance of one kilometer from their homes. Protests in front of Netanyahu’s residence were prohibited. Such restrictions drove citizens all over the country to the streets. Women in particular have been taking a creative and self-confident stand against the chauvinism of a militarized society and demand a say at all levels of decision-making. “Bo-ie!”, the Hebrew word for asking a woman to “come!”, is therefore one of their slogans. They want a woman politician to finally lead the country in place of a coalition government consisting primarily of ex-military and ultra-religious men. Feminists in particular accuse this cabinet of grossly neglecting women’s concerns, especially during the pandemic.
In the meantime, members of the ruling coalition are in the almost exclusively occupied with distrusting and blocking each other. Many who voted for Benny Gantz of Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) are disappointed that he first broke his promise not to form a government with Netanyahu, and then fails to offer any real resistance within the coalition. The Prime Minister is using any means possible in order to stay in power and to ward off a prison sentence; criminal proceedings concerning the charges brought against him are to resume in early 2021. He also wants to prevent Gantz from assuming the post of Prime Minister next year, according to the coalition agreement. Hardly anyone still believes that this will ever happen; rather, it is expected that parliament will soon be dissolved. If coalition partners do not agree on a budget by Christmas, new elections will become inevitable – the fourth round since April 2019.
Both Likud and Kahol Lavan are currently losing favor with voters, while the Yamina party under Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is steadily catching up. He is considered a representative of the settlement movement and neoliberal hardliner. Should Bennett rule Israel in future, it would – journalist Gideon Levy says – be a nightmare, “the fulfillment of the national-religious revolution”.
Yanal Jabarin also demonstrated outside his student dormitories in Jerusalem over the weekend. “I want us to be able to live here freely and on equal terms,” says the 23-year-old Palestinian from Umm al-Fahm. His Corona protective mask features the slogan: “Fed up with this out of touch government”. Yanal is one of the very few of the 1.9 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who join the demonstrations. While most Palestinians sympathize with the protest, they do not feel sufficiently involved and see the whole thing as an internal matter of the Jewish majority. Indeed, many demonstrators believe that the end of the Netanyahu era will save Israel’s democracy. Most do not want the United List, a predominantly Arab electoral alliance, led by Ayman Odeh, that holds 15 seats in the Knesset, to support a possible next government coalition.
It annoys the Palestinian journalist and filmmaker Rami Younis that some on the left are accusing the Palestinians of abstention: “We will not allow ourselves to be used for their power games,” says the 35-year-old activist in Haifa, criticizing that too little is being done to combat structural racism. In fact, many Jewish citizens with European roots live comparatively privileged lives, so that structural discrimination and violence are not an issue for them.
Kochi wants to continue demonstrating against this as well.
First published in Der Freitag, edition 42/2020, 15 October 2020