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Where are these huge Israeli protests heading? What I saw amidst 80,000 protesters in Tel Aviv

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of Israelis held kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, outside the Defense Ministry Headquarters in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2024. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — It was a hot and humid night.

But that’s nothing compared to the political temperature that’s going up quickly inside the Jewish state.

The protest movement against the current Israeli government – and specifically against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – is growing fast and furious. 

So, I decided to come here to “ground zero” to walk through the swelling crowds, listen to the speeches, listen to the chants, talk to people, ask questions, and try to really understand what it is the protesters want and where their movement is going. 


A few observations:

• I think this movement is going to grow and that it’s going to be a long, hot political summer. 

• Some of the protesters are truly left-wing revolutionaries. We saw some self-proclaimed anarchists – with signs describing themselves as anarchists – along with others describing themselves as communists. Both groups were demanding the creation of a Palestinian state while simultaneously demanding a state of anarchy and the spread of communism. Wow. 

• Most of the protesters are not radical or dangerous. I saw lots of normal, regular, wonderful Israelis – older people, teenagers, those in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. There was such a wide range of people. I didn't personally witness any arrests, though there were some last night. Most were peacefully listening to the speakers, waving Israeli flags, holding signs, and showing their support by their presence. Some were hostage families. Others, business people. I also met and interviewed retired Israeli General Dan Halutz, a former IDF chief of staff (I’ll publish my interview with him in a few days).

• The main thing I saw was passion. Not wild, nor crazy, but deep and sincere. They have very deep convictions. They know what they want and, above all, they want to be heard. 


So, what exactly are the protesters demanding?

First, they're demanding that Netanyahu immediately make a deal with Hamas – at any cost – to get all the hostages out of Gaza immediately. 

Second, they're demanding, at the very least, a temporary ceasefire to get the hostages out, though many want a permanent end to the war in Gaza.

Third, they’re demanding new elections. They believe that elections need to be called immediately and that Israelis must have the opportunity to choose new leaders to govern them. 

Fourth, some – though not all – are demanding that Netanyahu step down immediately. Many say that he is responsible ultimately for the disaster on October 7th, that he is running the war terribly, and that he's not making decisions that will either win the war decisively or bring all the hostages home. Thus, these folks want an end to this war and an end to Netanyahu’s political career.

Joel C. Rosenberg speaks with a protester in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2024 (Photo: ALL ISRAEL NEWS)

That said, there is not unity on all these issues.

In other words, not everybody agrees with their colleagues – they are joining hands in protest but their message is not entirely in concert with one another. 

It's important to note that it’s not just in Tel Aviv where these protests are happening on Saturday nights. 

They're starting to take place in Jerusalem and in various towns and cities all around the country. 

And the protest movement is growing. 

Israeli media reports indicate that upwards of 80,000 turned out Saturday night.

I can't verify that. The police haven't provided a number. But it was definitely tens of thousands. 

It really was quite fascinating to be there covering the protests for ALL ISRAEL NEWS and to have a crew with me from TBN for THE ROSENBERG REPORT. 

I wanted to see it for myself, try to better understand it, and see where this is going.

A protester in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2024 (Photo: ALL ISRAEL NEWS)


Barring some unforeseen event, I think these protests are going to grow steadily – possibly exponentially – in the weeks ahead. 

It's important to remember that before October 7th, the protest movement last summer swelled to upwards of 500,000 Israelis every Saturday night. 

That's a huge number in a country of only 10 million people.

At that time, they were demanding the judicial reform proposals introduced by the prime minister be halted immediately and that the Netanyahu government step down. 

There was, as you'll recall, great anger when Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after he said that the judicial reform effort inside the government was creating tremendous social division and distress. 

Gallant urged that the reform effort be paused for a while to bring the social and political temperature down and try to unify the country again. 

The defense minister also warned that Israel being so deeply divided was creating a tempting target that could inadvertently tempt Israel's enemies to attack. 

Netanyahu became furious with Gallant for making those statements without his authorization, even though Gallant had been trying to communicate these issues with Netanyahu for weeks. 

In the end, Netanyahu fired Gallant. 

At that moment, many Israelis feared that Netanyahu wasn't going to listen to reason. 

Gallant, after all, is not a wild-eyed, radical leftist.

He is a member of the right-wing Likud party, led by Netanyahu. 

He was a career military man until he entered politics as part of Likud. 

And he is Netanyahu's hand chosen defense minister. 

So, if Netanyahu was going to fire someone of that stature and caliber – just because Gallant publicly warned that the judicial reform efforts were creating dangerous social division and raising the prospect of an attack by Israel’s enemies – then Israelis feared that Netanyahu wouldn't listen to reason at all.

President Isaac Herzog then warned that “civil war” was becoming a real possibility. 

Banks shut down, universities shut down, and whole labor unions went on strike. 

In the end, Netanyahu did listen to the national outcry.

He reversed his decision but did not finish what he had set into motion in terms of firing Gallant. 

Gallant is still the Israel's defense minister today.

But last week, he publicly criticized Netanyahu, saying the prime minister needs to put a plan on the table explaining what a post-Hamas Gaza Strip should look like. 


War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz, a former defense minister himself, also gave a speech last week insisting that Netanyahu present the principles by which Gaza would be run after Hamas is defeated.

Both men have sharply criticized Netanyahu behind the scenes, and now in public, saying that Netanyahu has no willingness to articulate his vision of what Gaza should be after this war.

Both men believe that this is a mistake – a serious mistake. 

Gantz went so far as to say that if Netanyahu has not laid out such a plan for a post-Hamas Gaza by June 8th, that he and his party will leave the national emergency unity government and return to the opposition. 

That would not, in and of itself, bring down the Netanyahu government. 

It would bring Netanyahu's coalition back down to 64. 

He needs at least 61 to keep it running. 

The question is whether Gantz’s departure might lead Yoav Gallant to decide that he, too, is going to step down – not just as defense minister, but possibly even out of the government, and possibly out of the Likud party. 

Does Gallant have others who might leave the government with him, leave Likud, or leave other right-wing parties? 

No one knows right now.

What we do know is that there is a growing pressure for Netanyahu to bring this war to a conclusion, get these hostages out, and lay out a plan for the post-Hamas world in the Gaza Strip.

That’s why we’re seeing this swelling protest movement. 

Protestors calling for a hostage deal to release Israelis held by Hamas in Gaza, in Tel Aviv, May 25, 2024 (Photo: ALL ISRAEL NEWS)


What happens next? 

Will Netanyahu respond to growing public pressure and lay out a plan? 

Will Netanyahu call for early elections?

Or will Netanyahu's government fall? 

Stay tuned.

It’s shaping up to be a long, hot political summer. 

Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.

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