Israeli News Analysis: Getting Noisy Outside the Prime Minister’s Office

by Guest Writer RUVY in JERUSALEM
originally published in Blogcritics Magazine

I stand guard at the prime minister’s office building during the cabinet meetings that take place every Sunday. As a uniformed volunteer, I do not get to handle demonstrators. I may be a police volunteer, but I’m not a cop. At least that’s the policy. Last week, arriving at the street where the prime minister’s office building is, I could hear the demonstrators a block away, standing at my normal position near the exit to the Bank of Israel. So I told the Shabaknik, a secret service type, a kid in his twenties hefting an M16, that I was a volunteer and wasn’t supposed to handle demonstrators. He pointed to a shady area to stand under, and I basically watched him do his job – searching cars and clicking a clicker that raised a barrier and allowed them to enter the street where the prime minister’s office building is located.

Last week, I had to listen to demonstrators from the north of the country, angry over their treatment during the Lebanon War, furious at how the government ran away under the Katyusha assault of HizbAllah, and even angrier over the way the government had abandoned them afterwards.

Repeatedly, they screamed, “Where were the ministers?” “Where were you when we needed you?” Repeatedly, they made the point that in the twelve months after the war, the government had done nothing to make them whole, had done nothing to compensate them their losses, and that the government ministers hadn’t even visited the north. Their basic message was “Time’s up! We’re here to settle accounts with you and we won’t rest till you are thrown out of office!”

All this I absorbed from repetitive screaming in Hebrew over about four hours.

I should point out that this was a relatively small crowd, maybe thirty to fifty people all tolled, but they had one noisy megaphone, and there were at least as many cops and Border Guards as there were demonstrators. Frankly, I felt useless there.

But I could gauge the anger, hatred and resentment against the regime; it is deep and strong, an abiding hatred that comes from a justified sense of betrayal.

This week, when I arrived at about 09:00, I could again hear demonstrators – again at my position near the Bank of Israel. My partner, a grandmotherly lady who has been a volunteer for a long time and who used to work in the prime minister’s office building, was sitting there accompanied by a number of shotrĂ³t, policewomen. So, it appeared, this time I was going to have to handle demonstrators in spite of policy. I shrugged my shoulders. The majority of the demonstrators were sitting in wheelchairs and were protesting cuts in funding for cripples who suffered polio and other diseases and injuries.

They made up for the limits on their mobility with their noise. They had gotten a friend to bring his tow truck, outfitted with huge speakers and a generator, and they used a mike to scream at Olmert to come down from his cabinet meeting and look the people he was screwing over face to face.

They were much louder than the demonstrators had been last week – though they used some of the same techniques. They played the “color red” alert used to warn of Qassam and Katyusha rockets. The demonstrators had used this device last week to make the sheltered prime minister and his fellow ministers hear what it was that the residents of the north had to deal with last year (and what the residents of S’derot have to deal with still).

But the big difference was that these folks did not have a pre-recorded message they played over and over again. Each individual took the mike and called upon Olmert to show a little courage and come down from his comfortable chair in the meeting room to sit with them in the plastic chairs outside the Bank of Israel. Over and over again, they drove home the point that the cuts made by the government and the niggling increase in allowance for crippled people was a scandal – a shame.

One women made me glad that she was not my wife. Her screaming was something no husband should have to endure.

Handling the demonstrators turned out to be no problem. They could see a sympathetic person in me, one restrained in what he could say because of the uniform, but evidently someone who understood their problems and treated them with dignity. I guess that puts me a few degrees above the politicians they were condemning.

One politician actually came down and spoke with them. MK Eli Yishai, Minister of Industry, Trade, and Labor, as well as Deputy Prime Minister, reassured the crowd of people that the government would do what it could to treat them justly He promised them that Shas, the political party he heads, would veto the budget in its present form.

It turned out that the demonstration, part of the bickering over the State Budget for 2008 – which must pass if the cabinet is to stay in power, was a sign of trouble that was reflected in the Cabinet meeting itself. Transport Minister Mofaz walked out of the Cabinet Meeting over the proposed budget cuts Olmert felt forced to make. Later in the day, Eli Yishai, who had spoken to the demonstrators, also left the meeting. The Pensioners Party, an ally of Labor, has said it will veto the budget. Finally, the Histadrut national labor union will order a general strike if changes are not made to the 2008 budget and Economic Arrangements law passed Sunday morning by the cabinet, according to Army Radio.

But the point here is that the screaming is getting habitual. The dissatisfaction with the fool in office grows daily no matter how he wiggles and squirms, talking about this line of garbage or that. His popularity is at the point that only his wife, daughter and immediate flunkies really want him in office. Everybody else is trying to ditch him with minimal damage to themselves. It is only the fear of the damage that ditching him might do that is keeping Ehud Olmert’s rear end warming the prime minister’s chair in Israel. Otherwise, he is as good as gone. When the missiles of the Arabs and Iranians fall here in the near future, he will be.

The writer was born in Brooklyn and lived in Minnesota for a number of years. There he managed restaurants and wrote stories. He moved with his family to Israel where they now reside. He is also published by the Root & Branch Information Service and by Jewish Indy. Ruvy’s points of view are his own and not necessarily those of GDPR or Blogcritics.

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2 thoughts on “Israeli News Analysis: Getting Noisy Outside the Prime Minister’s Office

  1. Dear Natalie,

    Thank you so much for posting this piece. Let me add some additional points for your readers who may have only perfunctory knowledge of how politics works in this country. Each year, the Knesset, our parliament, must pass a budget and an economic arrangements law, which is similar to congressional appropriations.

    According to the Basic Law (Israel has no constitution like the United States or Canada), if the Knesset fails to pass a budget or at least continue the budget of the previous year for the following year, the cabinet has to resign and either the president calls for the the leaders of the political parties to form a new cabinet, or the Knesset votes to dissolve itself and call new elections.

    On Sunday the cabinet voted to pass the budget. This means that it will be submitted to the Knesset for readings. The Knesset has to approve each reading by a majority of those present. If the Knesset approves the budget for three successive readings, it is deemed passed. If not, well, the negotiations begin and uncertainty reigns. The “if not” is the usual state of affairs here with a solution being reached at the very last minute.

    Considering the nature of the comments of the minority parties in the governing coalition, it is not a sure deal that the budget will pass.

    But there is another complicating feature to the whole situation. The budget has to pass by 1 January 2008. Knowledgeable individuals believe that by then this country will be at war.

    Ahhh…

    The joys of living in the Holy land…

    Wishing you continued success with Grateful Dread Radio,

    Reuven

  2. Thank you so much for the article and the additional info. You know I find all of your dispatches most fascinating and yours is an important point of view to share. One thing Israelis and Americans have in common is that we have to spend a lot of time wondering what the hell our governments are doing (or rather, wondering why they do much of what they do).

    Keep the faith, hugs to you and your gorgeous family, and please keep those articles coming.

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