Israeli Left’s Show of Strength Highlights Weakness of Anti-annexation Protest

Saturday night’s demonstration in Tel Aviv against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed annexation of West Bank territories was a smashing success for the Israeli left. Driven by the apparent imminence of an annexation ostensibly set for July 1 and influenced, no doubt, by global protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of people showed up for a protest that would have drawn only hundreds before. 

Measured as a sign of the Israeli public’s overall opposition to annexation, however, the demo at Rabin Square was an abject failure. Deterred by coronavirus fears and wary of participating in a protest organized by groups ranging from Jewish Zionists to Arab anti-Zionists, thousands of people came to a rally that, under different auspices, might have attracted tens if not hundreds of thousands previously.

– LISTEN: High priests, holy smoke and cannabis in the Temple

LISTEN: High priests, holy smoke and cannabis in the TempleHaaretz

Galvanized by last week’s brutal East Jerusalem killing of autistic Palestinian Eyad Hallaq by Israeli Border Police, organizers and protestors alike did their best to align the anti-annexation protest with the rising tide of mass Black Lives Matter demonstrations in American cities and around the world. They waved “Palestinian Lives Matter” placards, demanded “Justice for Eyad” and confronted police with slogans such as “Who are you really guarding?”

After most demonstrators had gone home, a small militant group of about 200 protestors even managed to goad the police into dispersing them by force. The removal spawned a violent and unwarranted police assault on Haaretz photographer Tomer Appelbaum and other journalists, producing damning videos and press photos that dovetailed neatly with current American and global narratives.

Demonstrators lie on the ground as people protest the death of George Floyd outside Los Angeles City Hall, June 6, 2020 Damian Dovarganes/ AP

One can argue about whether the disparate 100-year history of confrontation and occupation between Israelis and Palestinians totally negates parallels to white America’s 400 years of African American subjugation and discrimination. But one glaring gap is undeniable: The majority of U.S. public opinion now acknowledges the legitimacy of black grievances, while the majority of Israelis ‒ including most of the Jewish center-left  ‒  continues to view Palestinians, at least those beyond the former Green Line, as a mortal enemy bent on their country’s destruction.

The U.S. protests are driven by an acute awareness of historical and current injustices. The brutally graphic video of Floyd’s execution by police strangulation appalled America, propelling unprecedented numbers of whites to join a struggle hitherto confined to African Americans and dedicated, often radical political groups. Their demands are simple and clear cut: To put an end to police brutality and to fully and finally achieve the unrealized constitutional principle of equality for all citizens, regardless of color.

And while protestors in Israel did their best to echo the surging tide of American anger, their efforts ‒  for the most part ‒  are bound to fall on deaf ears. Israelis view Palestinians as an ongoing threat. Many, though possibly not most, have only recently come around to recognizing the Israeli establishment’s systemic discrimination against Israeli Arabs, who, like black Americans, are nominally equal under the law. Liberal Israelis may oppose occupation in principle, but their sympathy for the plight of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is limited, to say the least.