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Israel’s orientalist rally for ‘democracy’

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On Saturday, the opposition to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called for a demonstration in Tel Aviv, to protest the premier’s attempts to curb the High Court powers so as to secure his immunity from looming indictments in corruption cases.

The event was dominated by the Blue and White centrist party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, which won an identical amount of seats as Likud (35 out of 120) in last month’s elections, but did not have the same coalition prospects as Likud to form a government. Yair Lapid boasted on Facebook from the event: “100 thousand people in the streets of Tel Aviv. And this is only the beginning”. 

The official invite proclaimed that while the demonstration was organized by Blue and White, the further left parties, Labor and Meretz, were co-organizers.

All this seemed quite “inclusive”, albeit with no Palestinian representation at first (not generally an issue for Zionists). The description in the Facebook invite started with “one demonstration for all (red heart emoticon)”. And yet, already the title and the logo revealed a serious problem, for those who cared to notice. The title was “PROTECTIVE WALL for democracy”.

 “Protective wall for democracy”

The “Protective wall” is unfortunate language. The immediate association for many is to Israel’s illegal Apartheid wall, built mostly on Palestinian territory. But it goes further than that. “Protective Wall” (“Homat Magen” in Hebrew) is the literal Hebrew name for the 2002 Operation Defensive Shield, which was the most massive onslaught of Israeli forces upon Palestinian population centers in West Bank since 1967, killing nearly 500 Palestinians. The wanton destruction by Israeli forces was amazing. One story epitomizes this: An Israeli reserve soldier bragged that he used a D-9 bulldozer to make “a stadium in the middle of” Jenin refugee camp, razing homes for 75 hours non-stop. He was interviewed by the Yediot Aharonot daily:

The funny bit is, I didn’t even know how to operate the D-9… But I begged them to give me a chance to learn… They taught me how to drive forwards and make a flat surface… Do you know how I held out for 75 hours? I didn’t get off the bulldozer. I had no problem of fatigue, because I drank whisky all the time. I had a bottle in the bulldozer at all times.

So yesterday’s demonstration echoed that operation. It can’t really surprise you, when thinking back on how Benny Gantz first introduced himself as a liberal opposition contender against Netanyahu: Gantz boasted about taking Gaza back “to the stone age” and assassinating Hamas leaders. His original party name, before joining with Lapid to make Blue and White, was “Resilience to Israel”. This is the Zionist macho, militant bravura that centrists like to portray, since it represents a security against being called “weak leftists”.

But this title is already deeply offensive for Palestinians – to refer to that operation in the context of ‘democracy’.

Wearing fezzes, protesters say, “We are not Turks!”

If one was in doubt whether this was but an incidental association, the orientalist mocking campaign continued in other, very prominent ways ahead of the demonstration itself. The theme of “Turkey” became a central feature. In the official Blue and White announcement, the main Hebrew title says “We will not let Netanyahu pull Israel to a Turkish-type legislation in which the leader is immune to the law” (in the English version, it just says “It’s a fight for our democracy”).

This “Turkish” theme became a huge mockery-gimmick: Hundreds of protesters came dressed with red fezzes which are supposed to represent Turks, and there were placards featuring portraits of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that read: “Erdogan is already here.”

Fezzes at demonstration in Tel Aviv May 25 were to show that Israel is not Turkey, when it comes to an executive’s immunity to prosecution. From Facebook fotos of the demo.

These predominantly white, Jewish Ashkenazi Zionist protesters may have been tone-deaf to the kind of mockery they are making, but the arrogance is reflective of their white-supremacist, Islamophobic ideology. Because the Fez is not only a feature of Turkey.

Some people noticed this and posted on social media– for instance this split image – one side from the demonstration with the fezzes, the other side featuring Arab Jews in 1914:

Iraqi Jews (one wearing a fez and two wearing a sudra) after they had taken off their shoes, in the yard of the grave of Ezekiel the priest – 1914. And across – the mockery by the Zionist supremacists of “White-trash” this evening, in their ethnocracy protest…  The usage of a Turkish fez (a symbol of pride in Eastern Muslim countries) as a means of mockery of someone, is first and foremost a mockery of the Arab culture, as well as of Middle-East culture in its entirety. 

Image of Iraqi Jews from 1914, one wearing a fez.

Mizrahi activist Naama Katii posted a photo of dozens of fez-wearing protesters, and wrote:

Apparently, only in Israel, a just fight for democracy cannot avoid bearing with it a racist odor. Maybe because a colonialist democracy never was, and never could be, a real democracy.

While speaking against “hate”, Benny Gantz alluded to the orientalist Turkish connection in his speech:

We will not be silent, we will not surrender to hate, we will not surrender to incitement – we will not let Israel become the private mansion of a Sultan or a royal family.

Back on social media, Tamir Karkason cited Yair Lapid mockingly:

“We are not Turks, we won’t let you be a tyrant”, Lapid shouted in the demonstration against corruption. Lapid went straight for an example from the Middle-East? Then someone should have told him about the East-European or central-European tradition, which is very-very “democratic” (hint – ask your father, blessed be his name, what tyrants worse than Erdogan did to him and his family…). But apparently, it is really much easier to racialize on the Middle-East and attempt to separate yourself from it, while you ask to live precisely within it.

What is certain, is that if one wants to recruit more of the offspring of the Ottoman and North African Jews towards this struggle – then there are more efficient ways than racial isolation within the region in which we live. To go around in demonstrations wearing fezzes in a country wherein the fez reminds many of the world of their forefathers, in a country wherein many immigrants from East-African countries wear a fez every year in the Mimuna festivities – is to be arrogant and patronizing to a degree in which you are not even aware of being so. And these are the deep currents which repel many citizens of the state from these messages.

In [an accompanying] photo: Ataturk, an enlightened tyrant, one who in general had views resembling Lapid’s (he even outlawed wearing the fez!) and whose application of these views in the Middle-Eastern political context was as violent as can be the application of Lapid’s positions.

(Lapid’s positions vis-à-vis Palestinians can be summarized by his stated “principle”: “maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”).

“My first protest… the Jewish nation is a wonder!”

Benny Gantz told the crowd that this was the first protest he’s been to ever, supposedly because as the former chief of the Israeli army he could not attend politically-oriented events. But this is nonsense. Gantz finished his military service as Chief of Staff in February 2015. Until his election he’s been a civilian – Gantz had three years in which he could attend political-oriented events, and there were plenty, including, for example, the protests against the Nation-State law last year. He said:

I came here, to the first demonstration in my life, to say out loud what we all know: The Jewish nation is a wonder, and the state of Israel is a miracle,

Iyat Abu Shamis and Omri Najad wrote in Haoketz:

Such a foolish sentence from the former army chief of staff who has yet not proven that he is a particularly sharp pencil, is not surprising, nonetheless the choice of marginalizing Arabs and relating only to the majority in the rally which is supposed to strengthen the democratic camp and the ethos of equality before the law, is dissonant. 

Where are the Arabs?

Now, although Blue White dominated the scene (and literally so – the crowd featured many Zionist Israeli blue-white flags, no Palestinian flags, and the stage was also dressed with them), there were other co-organizers here – Labor, and Meretz. But was there to be no Palestinian representation here? Labor has been wary of being seen as “Arab lovers” but Meretz are recently working hard to appeal to “Israeli Arabs”, and no wonder, because their political survival was thanks to Palestinian voters. The Meretz party leadership is now in a conundrum of how to appeal to ‘Israeli-Arab’ voters, while maintaining its central identity as a Jewish Zionist party. Until a day before the demonstration, there was no appointed ‘Israeli-Arab’ speaker, but following reported pressures on Gantz, at last minute, Ayman Odeh, chair of the Hadash party, was booked to speak. Haaretz did report on Thursday that Odeh had originally been invited to speak but that when he accepted the invitation, he was told that the list of speakers was already closed and there was no room for additional speakers.

Odeh told protesters:

I am here today because I believe in Jewish-Arab partnership and believe it is the only way for hope in this country… Arab citizens alone cannot do it, but without us it is also impossible. I am here today because I believe that without equality there is no democracy,

Meretz chair Tamar Zandberg mentioned Palestinians:

This is personal, it’s personal for every man and woman who had to go to court to ask to become parents [referring to surrogacy law]… it’s personal for Palestinians who had their land stolen because the government passed a law saying it’s allowed [referring to ‘Regularization law’, aka ‘theft law’]. It’s personal for women who want to get on a bus and are told to use the back door [referring to gender segregation on certain busses].

But the Palestinian issue was very marginal in these protests, as is very typical for these mainstream Zionist events concerning ‘democracy’ and ‘social justice’. 

Blogger Sapir Sluzker-Amran wrote on the day before the demonstration that she had just “bumped into Benny Gantz at the Cinematheque”.

I explained to him that I anyway didn’t consider going there tomorrow, but I wonder why Arabs will not be speaking tomorrow on the stage and how come it seems logical for him to exclude them. The monotonous scarecrow explained that they were very welcome in the audience.  

And that’s where the Israeli center really wants Palestinians – on the sidelines, always on the sidelines, because we have a very important ‘Jewish-democratic’ agenda to attend to here. And we can also use all kinds of offensive, Islamophobic and white-supremacist cultural mockery to do this with, it’s all kosher.

I saw Ayman Odeh’s speech, he posted the video on his Facebook wall. It was so hard to watch. I try to hold respect for this man, I really do, he tries so hard – but to see him standing there, as the guest who was finally welcomed by this Jewish-Zionist gathering which would mostly be more comfortable without his presence at all – it was difficult. 

Odeh can speak about “equality”, but surely he must know, that equality is anathema to Zionism. Odeh is still in the political margin which is tolerated by Zionists. Those Palestinians who seek true equality in a democratic state, like the United Arab List-Balad, were not invited to participate in the rally. Party leader Mansour Abbas said “the organizers of the ‘democracy’ rally ignored the representatives of the Arab community so I will not participate in the protest.” He added that he would have agreed to participate in the demonstration had he been asked, but the party wasn’t invited to join the rally and will not be taking part in it.

And that’s because this rally was not about democracy. It was about Zionism, and it was about maintaining a semblance of democracy, so as to keep a liberal appearance, while being an Apartheid state.

I would not have gone there.

Let me end with another quote from Abu Shamis and Najad:

We believe it is time to lift the head, not to suffice with crumbs that various chiefs-of-staff throw at us in their charity, not to suffice with little. Either we do things right, or we don’t do them at all. That’s why we chose not to take part in the demonstration; that, without mentioning the fact that it’s Ramadan and that it’s difficult to partake in demonstrations during the breaking of fast or during the Iftar meal and prayer. But as mentioned, the state of Israel is a miracle! And who are we, the Arab from Jaffa and the Arab-Jew from Ramat Gan, to complain.  

H/t Ofer Neiman, Tom Pessah

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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31 Responses

  1. just on May 27, 2019, 8:59 pm

    Thanks for your very important analysis, Jonathan. A Haaretz Editorial and Chemi Shalev were almost over the moon after the event. I am NOT over the moon to put it mildly.

    The Editorial:

    “The Democratic Front to Save Israel …”

    “In the Face of Netanyahu’s Threat to Democracy, Israel’s Opposition Makes Rare Show of Unity

    At Saturday’s protest, the speakers were more impassioned than usual, the messages sharper, and the listeners angrier. It could herald a new era in Jewish-Arab relations …”
    Odeh Bisharat had this to say:

    “The One Good Thing to Come Out of the Pro-democracy Rally in Tel Aviv

    The opposition party of generals, Kahol Lavan, is learning that without the Arabs it has no chance of generating change …”

    • Jonathan Ofir on May 28, 2019, 2:19 am

      Thanks Just, I’ve noticed. I know I’ve already said this in the piece, but it needs to be reemphasized:

      The thrust of these protest is NOT to defend democracy, but to defend “Jewish and Democratic” – and that is very different from democracy. It is all about Zionism, and it’s called, in more precise terms a “racial democracy”. As Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley wrote in their excellent UN commissioned report on Israeli Apartheid (2017:

      “As in any racial democracy, such a [Jewish] majority allows the trappings of democracy — democratic elections, a strong legislature — without threatening any loss of hegemony by the dominant racial group.”

      In other words, the main motivator of these protests is racism, although it seems to be about democracy. Therefore, as Naama Katii also noted, it is not surprising that these protests bear the more explicitly racist odor.

      Zionists know very well, how much their veil of ‘Democracy’ means. It lets the project continue with a false aura of liberalism. It is only sad, that so many hail this veil as if it was the real thing.

  2. Marnie on May 28, 2019, 5:35 am

    @just and Jonathan –
    agree wholeheartedly that this phony democracy continues to be seen as genuine. I would say the same about the u.s. too.

  3. eljay on May 28, 2019, 7:27 am

    “Liberal Zionists” will beat their breasts over how unhelpful and maybe even embarrassing are hard-core Zionist policies but, at the end of the day, even the most liberal of “liberal Zionists” desires and fully supports Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of (geographic) Palestine.

  4. just on May 28, 2019, 8:56 am

    Thanks again, and of course you nailed it yet again. This is truly from another planet, or just business and benjamins as usual in Israel.

    “Israel’s SodaStream Hosts Thousands for Ramadan Feast

    Bedouins and Jewish Israelis and some Palestinians attended the feast on Monday along with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman

    SodaStream is hosting nearly 3,000 Israelis and Palestinians for a Ramadan fast-ending meal at its factory in the southern Israel town of Rahat.

    Bedouins and Jewish Israelis and some Palestinians attended the feast on Monday along with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

    Friedman writes on Twitter that he had “the pure joy” to attend, and touts SodaStream as a paragon of peace: “Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews working together, each making the other better, happier and more prosperous.” …”

    Do “Jewish Israelis” fast during Ramadan? I think not.

    • just on May 28, 2019, 9:06 am

      I have tried multiple times to post portions of Haaaretz’ article about Rivlin’s iftar entitled in part “Your home is my home” to no avail. I apologize in advance if it appears later. It was included in my above post, I finally separated the articles and the first went through… I guess I’ ll try later. Anyway, I’ll try to post my own comments instead:

      Astonishing, eh? “Your home is my home.” Refreshing honesty, a Freudian slip, or something else entirely?

      Why the 1,200 “hidden cameras”at polling stations in “Arab communities”? (from the Haaretz article)

      Both of these events appear to be a desperate attempt to preserve Israel’s false and deluded image as a democracy for all, and for their respect for Muslims (ha-ha-ha!)

  5. Misterioso on May 28, 2019, 9:58 am

    It never ceases to amaze me what an incredibly messed up place “Israel” is. No wonder ever increasing numbers of Jews are abandoning the sinking ship and moving abroad.

    • jon s on May 28, 2019, 11:27 am

      Some people leave, some people arrive, it’s a free country. In any case, the population is growing nicely.

      Meanwhile: huge political drama in Israel today. Stay tuned…

      • Misterioso on May 28, 2019, 12:02 pm

        @jon s

        Yes, “…the population is growing nicely,” thanks to the very high birth rate of the indigenous Palestinian Arabs who despite about 1,250,000 having been expelled from their ancestral home by Zionist forces between late 1947 and 1967, now equal the number of Jews living between the River and the Sea. They will soon be the majority making it very difficult for Bibi,, to illegally annex occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank.

        Also, regarding “Israel” west of the green line:

        Newsweek, May 10/18

        “More Israelis are moving to the U.S.—and staying for good”

        “Spurred by the high cost of living, low salaries, and political and demographic trends, Israelis are leaving the country in droves.” By Yardena Schwartz

        “Israel celebrates its 70th birthday in May with the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Yet the country is grappling with an existential crisis—one that doesn’t involve Iranian nukes or Palestinian protests. Spurred by the high cost of living, low salaries, and political and demographic trends, Israelis are leaving the country in droves, trying to build their lives elsewhere, mostly in the United States. Many of these young Israelis are moving to big cities, and yet, even in these often expensive places, they see more opportunities to advance.”

        “The available data is telling, analysts say. Between 2006 and 2016, more than 87,000 Israelis became U.S. citizens or legalized permanent residents, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. That’s up from 66,000 between 1995 and 2005. These figures take into account only those who took the legal route (many Israelis, analysts say, arrive on temporary tourist, student or work visas, then stay). And in addition to the Israelis now living stateside, according to the country’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, hundreds of thousands have moved to Europe, Canada and elsewhere.

        “The country’s brain drain isn’t new. For years, many of its most talented scholars and researchers moved to the U.S., where the salaries are far higher and there are more jobs at top-tier universities. One report by Dan Ben-David, an economist at Tel Aviv University, found that the emigration rate of Israeli researchers was the highest in the Western world. Recently, however, the exodus has expanded to include average young people, many of whom say there’s simply no future in Israel.”

      • Sibiriak on May 28, 2019, 12:59 pm

        Misterioso: They will soon be the majority making it very difficult for Bibi,, to illegally annex occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank.

        I agree. Therefore, Israel will most likely annex only parts of the West Bank and avoid absorbing large numbers of Palestinians. Annexing Gaza is out of the question.

      • annie on May 28, 2019, 2:00 pm

        jon, i’ve been following this political drama somewhat. do you know if there are snap elections would that leave an opening for bennett and shaked? would they be on the ballot?

      • jon s on May 28, 2019, 5:13 pm

        Annie, Ayelet Shaked will probably join Likud. Bennet – I don’t know.
        The present situation is unprecedented, uncharted waters. Netanyahu has exactly one more day, until Wednesday at midnight, to form a govt. I won’t be surprised if some last minute deal is worked out and the gov’t is formed. But I’m not going to make any predictions at this point.

  6. Sibiriak on May 28, 2019, 10:38 am

    Misterioso: …increasing numbers of Jews are abandoning the sinking ship and moving abroad.

    Nevertheless, net migration into Israel remains positive, and is in fact increasing. More importantly, due to high birth rates the Israeli population is projected to double within 40 years, with Jewish Israelis maintaining their super-majority.

    • Misterioso on May 28, 2019, 12:07 pm


      Au contraire. Native Palestinian Arabs already outnumber Jews between the River and the sea and as noted in my posting above, Jewish emigration exceeds immigration.

      “One report by Dan Ben-David, an economist at Tel Aviv University, found that the emigration rate of Israeli researchers was the highest in the Western world. Recently, however, the exodus has expanded to include average young people, many of whom say there’s simply no future in Israel.”

      I well remember while living in the region Palestinians telling me that they had a “secret weapon,” i.e., the fertile wombs of their women.

      • Sibiriak on May 28, 2019, 12:34 pm

        “Jewish emigration exceeds immigration.”

        No, it does not.


        “Native Palestinian Arabs already outnumber Jews between the River and the sea”

        Israel does not stretch from the river to the sea, thus due to high birth rates the Israeli population is projected to double within 40 years, with Jewish Israelis maintaining their super-majority– within Israel .


        “Palestinians telling me that they had a “secret weapon,” i.e., the fertile wombs of their women.”


        Once exceptionally fertile, Arab-Israeli women now have an average of 3.13 children, the same as their Jewish fellow citizens. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics report, Arabs will comprise 20 percent of the Israeli population in 2059, compared to the current 21 percent.

    • Mooser on May 28, 2019, 12:24 pm

      ” to double within 40 years”

      Where are you getting this, “Sibiriak”?

      • Sibiriak on May 28, 2019, 12:42 pm

        See link above.

      • Mooser on May 28, 2019, 2:03 pm

        “See link above”

        To “Macrotrends – The Premier Research Platform for Long Term Investors”? Ho-Kay

    • annie on May 28, 2019, 12:39 pm

      misterioso is correct, jewish israelis don’t have a super majority in the region. when you add the population of the west bank and gaza palestinians outnumber jews.

      speaking of emigration there’s a recent article about an influx of leftie jewish israelis to, of all places, portugal.

      “In Israel, They Felt Unwanted. They Found Paradise in Portugal…More and more Israelis are finding a haven on Portuguese soil”

      “We built a fire truck to put out fires, we collected garbage for 24 years and we appeared before every committee, certain that we were in the right and that they would understand in the end. The truth is that no one wanted us. We were not in anyone’s political or economic interest, and we didn’t screw any Arab. Here, they went along with us about the idea of a small herd and a tiny dairy. And because I’m a farmer, all the diesel fuel will be subsidized. Israel is not a truly democratic country. All it cares about is screwing the Arabs, and to achieve that it will shoot everyone in the foot.”

      they interview several couples

      They tried to join a kibbutz, but were rejected by the admission committee.

      • Sibiriak on May 28, 2019, 12:47 pm

        Annie: misterioso is correct, jewish israelis don’t have a super majority in the region.

        Nobody claimed that they did.

      • RoHa on May 28, 2019, 8:31 pm

        “and we didn’t screw any Arab. ”

        That’s where they went wrong, of course.

      • RoHa on May 29, 2019, 12:52 am

        But Portugal isn’t always so welcoming. Look at this piece of blatant Portuguese anti-Semitism.

      • annie on May 29, 2019, 2:57 am

        i remember this scandal

        Fourteen Israelis are suspected by Colombian authorities of running a child sex trafficking ring which marketed tour packages from Israel to the Latin American country aimed at businessmen and recently discharged soldiers, according to reports on Monday.

        …The children and teens were paid $63-126 for each “meeting” with Israeli tourists, and were forced to join a WhatsApp group called “Purim,” presumably named for the drunken celebrations that take place around the Jewish holiday, the Ynet news site reported.

        …they targeted boys and girls who came from troubled homes or had a background of financial difficulties, and forced them into sex work.

      • DaBakr on May 30, 2019, 12:46 am


        Yeah,slightly true. The main reason for Portugal is the dirt cheap land for farming, cost of living and very nice atmosphere of welcome. I would say this type of immigrant free from other nations naturally tracks left in most circumstances similar to high cost of living flight. And yes, I’m saying 90% of it is based on economy of some sort.

      • annie on May 30, 2019, 2:13 pm

        dabakr, i’m not sure i’d agree immigration tracking left is primarily for financial reasons. however, in the case of portugal it obviously seems to be a factor. more well off or urban leftists might choose berlin, canada, or the US. but the implication most of the immigrants from israel to portugal are there is based 90% on economy ignores many voices in the article. it sounds like they are looking for friendly paradise and didn’t see that as an option in israel.

      • DaBakr on May 30, 2019, 6:42 pm


        I won’t argue with the last sentence in your comment. I just don’t see the immigration as highly ideological.

        I would however consider the leftist flow into Berlin, from Israel, as more ideological, in an ironic twist, then Portugal

      • annie on June 1, 2019, 1:07 pm

        so when the left flock to germany it’s ideological but when they move to portugal it’s financial.
        interesting. either way it’s a lifestyle choice. for the right in israel you can simply become a settler if you want subsidized country living. that’s ideological. but if one is a leftie seeking the same rural standard, it’s not ideological to seek it out of the country. not sure i follow your logic.

  7. Elizabeth Block on May 28, 2019, 11:01 am

    I wish I could think that Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid would be any better, in power, than Netanyahu. But they wouldn’t. They might well be worse.
    And I blame the people. The voters. No Israeli politician who is prepared to do what is needed to make peace has a ghost of a chance of being elected. Probably because for real peace, Israel has to become a Jewish state only in the way that Canada is a Christian state.

    • Mooser on May 28, 2019, 12:26 pm

      “Probably because for real peace, Israel has to become a Jewish state only in the way that Canada is a Christian state.”

      I don’t see why Israel can’t transition from a “Jewish State” into a ‘half-Jewish State’, like pretty much the rest of us.

      • DaBakr on May 30, 2019, 12:48 am


        and that’s actually funny!

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