Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Hadas Gold and Amir Tal report for CNN that the tenth major weekend of protest against the plans of the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to gut the judiciary grew to half a million people, with about 250,000 massing in the streets of Tel Aviv and a similar number at protests around the country. These rallies are the largest demonstrations the country has ever seen. The CNN reporters estimate that as much as 5% of Israel’s population may have come out into the streets.
The protests themselves are sharpening the contradictions between the Israeli center-right and the far, far right Netanyahu government, where fascist parties such as Religious Zionism and Jewish Power hold key cabinet positions.
Joe Fisher at UPI discusses one reason for which these demonstrations became so huge. Last Thursday, Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-Gvir, whom Netanyahu unwisely named National Security Minister, summarily fired Amichai Eshed, the chief of police in Tel Aviv, for being “soft” on the protesters.
In other words, Ben-Gvir, who was convicted over a decade ago of incitement to racial violence and membership in a terrorist organization, wants the police to break some heads.
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, however, intervened in the firing, saying that she had to review it to make sure proper procedures were followed. The attorney general received support from the Israeli national police commissioner, Kobi Shabtai, who said he had changed his mind on the propriety of Eshed’s firing.
On Sunday, Netanyahu upped the ante, claiming that the attorney general had no right to put a hold on Eshed’s firing and that the elected government is in charge of all security forces. For his part, Ben-Gvir started hinting around that he could not trust Baharav-Miara and that she was prejudiced against his ‘Jewish Power’ bloc, and that she herself might just need to be fired.
In polling, about half of Israelis want Ben-Gvir himself to be fired. As long as the government coalition holds and does not fail a vote of no confidence measure, however, there is no way for the people to remove Ben-Gvir, and it is a little unlikely that street protests will do it.
According to the center-left Haaretz, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that Ben-Gvir’s provocative incursion into the al-Aqsa Mosque complex (which he wants to see torn down), and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s assertion that the small Palestinian town of Huwwara should be “wiped out” has caused the United Arab Emirates to freeze weapons purchases from Israel. Channel 12 said that UAE leader Mohamed Bin Zayed had told Israeli reporters, “As long as we can’t be certain that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a government that he controls, we can’t cooperate.”
Netanyahu vocally denied the veracity of the report, as did his ambassador in Abu Dhabi.
At the same time, the Israeli network Kan, according to Haaretz, reported that Saudi Arabia denied an Israeli delegation entry visas for a conference of the United Nations World Tourism Organization taking place in the kingdom.
Along with the Saudi announcement of renewed diplomatic ties with Iran on Friday, in a diplomatic demarche brokered by China, the reports of disgruntlement in the UAE with the extremist elements in the Netanyahu cabinet suggest that Netanyahu’s hopes of sidelining the Palestinian issue by cozying up to Arab oil dictatorships that had no investment in the Palestinian cause might be on shaky ground. Netanyahu also hoped that Israel could put together an anti-Iran coalition among Arab partners who worried more about Iranian mischief than they did what might happen to the Palestinians. In fact, Israel has only been able to ink peace accords with governments. The people of those states care passionately what happens to the Palestinians, and at least sometimes the governments are afraid enough of their people to at least keep Israel at arm’s length for as long as tempers on the street are running high.