JERUSALEM – The weekly Saturday protests have been a fixture of Israeli life for months in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system. And being just a short walk from the President’s house where these protests take place, it seemed only right to hike up the hill and check it out. What better way to spend your first night in Israel?
While it wasn’t the reported low-six figure turnout that Tel Aviv had, several thousand packed the streets, had drum circles, and repeated the familiar cries of hope and democracy.
A speaker on stage had stressed the importance of Jews of all stripes coming together to oppose the reform measures. Want to learn more on that? Check out Lev Gringauz’s excellent explainer on episode 94 of The Jews Are Tired Podcast.
The event has drawn all ages, from young kids drawing protest slogans in sidewalk chalk, to older adults who have been protesting for just a few weeks.
Fifteen-year-old Roni Peretz has been at the protest every week for 14 weeks, and while she said she’s always considered herself an activist, the judicial reform plan was the turning point.
“Look at this: we’re actually [making] history and it’s crazy. And we’re [saving] our country,” she said. “There’s the president’s house. We’re here and yelling. I hope he can hear.”
Sylvia Hess, a 70-year-old from Jerusalem, has been coming for the last five weeks of protests and has never considered herself an activist before now.
“It wasn’t enough to be at home and complain,” she said. “I had the feeling I had to be part and had to come.”
While the thousands in front of the President’s house were the main component, there were, what appeared to be two other counter-protests. The first encountered on the walk to the site was an anti-occupation protest and a minyan that was finishing up an impromptu service.
At the far end were a dozen Netanyahu supporters. A small buffer of a fence and border officers separated them from the main protest.
This appears to be Israel’s new reality – at least for now. And after having been in the city for under four hours, it was certainly an interesting way to kick off this experience.