As an organizer expressed 'hope that the left will return' to Israel, large crowd chanted 'Bibi go home!'
By Jon Queally
Tens of thousands of Israelis rallied against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ruling government in the nation's capital of Tel Aviv on Saturday night as they decried the leader's domestic policies and called for a peace agreement with the Palestinians who live in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Government estimates put the rally at 40,000, but organizers and local media outlets expressed certainty the number was more than 50,000 people.
Less than two weeks from national elections on March 17, the protest rally held in Yitzhak Rabin Square is the largest showing of late from the nation's left-leaning and more-centrist forces who criticize Netanyahu (known by his nickname 'Bibi') for the way his far-right Likud Party has ruled in recent years.
According to CNN:
The rally, called "Israel Wants Change," was put on by One Million Hands, a grassroots movement that focuses its efforts on two major issues: a two-state solution and a reduction in the cost of living.The Associated Press reports the rally was not officially endorsed by any political party, but drew mostly supporters of leftist and centrist parties. The keynote speaker was former Mossad chief Meir Dagan who recently slammed Netanyahu's conduct and called him "the person who has caused the greatest strategic damage to Israel."
On both of these topics, founder Dror Ben-Ami says, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed.
"We think that the only way to go forward on that account is to change government and to get this current government out of office. To get Bibi out of office," says Ben-Ami.
Organizers are not promoting any specific candidate or pushing voters toward any political party in the March 17 balloting. Instead, they are encouraging voters to change the current administration.
At the rally, Dagan told the crowd, "Israel has enemies but I do not fear them. What scares me is the current leadership of the country."
Though recent polling shows Likud's most imposing challenger for the March 17 elections remains the similarly rightwing Zionist Union party, the renewed clamor from Netanyahu's left-flank is seen as a positive sign for those more progressive-minded Israelis who have largely been dis-empowered in recent years.
Saturday's demonstration, said Ben Ami, was a demonstration of strength "by Israeli citizens who are demanding a change of politics" and "a peace agreement" with the Palestinians.
"The current government has failed on the social and economic fronts and has not improved the security situation, the country has broken down… We hope that the left will return," he said.