fbpx

Rosner’s Domain | The Burden of Protest

In a democratic country there is always a right to protest, but there is not always a right to disrupt.
[additional-authors]
July 10, 2024
Protesters march during a demonstration calling for a hostage deal and against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government on July 6, 2024 in Tel Aviv, Israel. Amir Levy/Getty Images

It should be assumed that there is thought behind actions, and yet, questions must be asked about Israel’s protest movement: Why does it hold “days of disruption”? Why do so few Israelis feel that they have the right to block the road for the many? Last Sunday was such a day. A group of activists blocked an intersection; another blocked a main road; another slowed the traffic on purpose. Drivers were frustrated, late for meetings, late to events. Does anyone expect these drivers to become angrier with the government? Are they supposed to join the protest following such experience of deliberate delay? If that’s the purpose, we do not see such a trend. 

The actions of the protest movement — with its demands for holding new elections and for accepting a hostage deal — are not popular, and it’s not because of public trust in the government. The public doesn’t trust the government but still wonders about the connection between such feelings and sitting in traffic. The leaders of the protest movement have the responsibility to explain how their actions lead to their expected result. 

Explaining their frustration, their anger, their despair, their desire to make a change – that’s easy. For almost two years Israel has been run by drunken drivers. A significant portion of the public wants to see new elections, new leadership. This is not what needs to be explained. What needs to be explained is the connection between blocking an intersection and replacing the government. How does sitting in traffic on Route 90 advance Israel’s rescue from the crisis it is in? 

Most of the public is frustrated and angry, yet most of it does not feel a strong enough urge to go out and protest. Many explanations can be given for what may seem like a contradiction: inertia, laziness, lack of trust in the ability to change things, the sentiment that a time of war is not a time to demonstrate. There are many reasons, and the bottom line is this: Few participate or support the “days of disruption.” These aren’t the days of the vast protest against the legal reform. 

Hence the difficulty: There is a difference between a country that is “shutdown” by a decision supported by half the public, and a country that is “shutdown” because 10,000 people decided to shut it down in one way or another. The first case is a case that can be justified. The second case is a case that is difficult to justify. Since it is very easy to block a road, and very easy to disrupt the daily routine of hundreds of thousands of people, a decision to block a road has to meet some basic criteria: It has to be reasoned (cause – effect), it has to be a last resort (because it harms uninvolved citizens), it has to be based on broad support (to have legitimacy). 

Blocking a road by huge crowds for a specific reason for a limited time — such as the event Israel went through when Defense Minister Galant was sacked by the PM — is one thing. Blocking a road as a routine of a fringe minority is another matter. The police would and should treat such two incidents differently. The legal system would and should treat two such two incidents differently. 

In a democratic country there is always a right to protest, but there is not always a right to disrupt. Disruptors should take this into account. They need to understand that the police will use more force against blockades by the few, they need to understand that as the legitimacy of disturbances decreases, the legitimacy of forced evacuation, arrest, prosecution increases. Of course, none of this justifies police violence. But it does justify using more force to prevent a situation where any angry person, or disgruntled small group, would feel free to paralyze half the country. 

And there’s one last thing to remember as one asks the protest movement to tread carefully as it pursues its goals. There is an increasing discourse in certain groups on the right which contains more than a hint of a threat of counter-actions. The road blockers should ask themselves whether they are not provoking the public excessively, thereby increasing the chance that Israel will degenerate into violence. 

The road blockers should ask themselves whether they are not provoking the public excessively, thereby increasing the chance that Israel will degenerate into violence. 

It is easy to imagine this situation. Some hotheaded Israelis get stuck in the traffic jam. They get out of the vehicle. One picks up a stick, one swings a fist. It’s a sunny, sweaty afternoon. The blood is boiling, someone feels danger and makes a rash move, or just loses his temper, or feels that if he acts violently, he will be applauded by the other drivers behind him. This will be a difficult, socially dangerous moment. This could result in tragedy. A moment that Israel must strive to avoid. Avoid how? The police must deal with disturbances quickly, those trapped in traffic ought to drink water and relax. And the protesters must also be responsible: they need to refrain from excessive provocation. They need to remember provocation is something that not everyone handles with calm.

Something I wrote in Hebrew

Hezbollah’s leader Nasrallah may make the following calculation: To avoid war, he will be forced to implement a policy close to the one specified in Security Council Resolution 1701. It is hard to see how the Israeli government could send Israelis back to the north while settling for less than that … what will Nasrallah gain from war? Exactly what he gained in 2006. Because there is a difference between a decision designed to prevent a war, which needs to be implemented, and a decision that is made after a war, when everyone is exhausted, when there is a sigh of relief, and insistence on implementation is less robust.

A week’s numbers

All polls predict that if/when a new party is formed that includes former PM Naftali Bennett, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, former minister Gideon Sa’ar and former head of Mossad Yossi Cohen – it would be Israel’s largest party by a significant margin.

A reader’s response:

Gil Amrousi asks: “Does the public in Israel want to start a war with Lebanon?” Answer: With Hezbollah, not Lebanon. And there’s a chance it would regret it as soon as it starts, so one hopes the government will not make such a decision based on public opinion alone. 


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.