04/20/2020, 16.50
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Christian leader: The coronavirus has revived the fight for democracy in Israel

Yesterday, thousands of people rallied in Tel Aviv to “Save Democracy,” many of them young. Protesters followed distancing and other coronavirus restrictions. For Sobhy Makhoul, the emergency has revealed dirty political games and revived the centre-left, which has been on the political margins for some time. A coalition deal is a high-stake game.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – The COVID-19 pandemic "has revealed many latent problems in the State of Israel" and "has awakened groups and currents, especially on the centre-left,” who have been "absent from Israeli politics over the past 15 years,” said Sobhy.

Makhoul, a member of the Maronite Church in Jerusalem and administrator of the Christian Media Center, spoke to AsiaNews about yesterday’s pro-democracy rally in Tel Aviv, which brought together “thousands of people, especially young people”.

“There is a new soul,” said the Christian leader. “Things will be different after the coronavirus because the latter revealed dirty political games that have endangered rights and freedoms in Israel.”

Shouting ‘Save democracy,’ thousands of people took to the streets in Israel’s economic capital, wearing protective masks and waving black flags, to protest against caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, protesters had to avoid assembling and comply with the two-metre distance requirement imposed by the Health Ministry to counter the pandemic. 

Netanyahu is on trial for corruption on three different charges. The first hearing was scheduled for 17 March, but was postponed by two months because of the coronavirus outbreak.

To stay in power, he began negotiations  with his main rival, Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue White coalition, unsuccessfully so far.

Yesterday several supporters of the centrist leader were at the rally, to show their opposition to any grand coalition.

During the election campaign, Gantz, who was later elected Knesset speaker, strongly rejected the idea of striking a deal with Netanyahu. However, he seems to have changed his mind following the pandemic in favour of a national unity government with a set time frame.

For Sobhy Makhoul, “Netanyahu is trying to get a deal with Gantz only to save his skin" from political and legal disaster. He "does not want to be tried" and "is using the coronavirus emergency to show himself as a leader capable of solving problems” who deserves “the people’s support”.

In reality, even “in managing the pandemic, the current government has been very divided,” especially the prime minister against Defence Minister (Naftali) Bennett. “This has fuelled confusion. Had the military handled it, confinement would have been better.”

So far, Gantz and Netanyahu have failed to agree because of the high stakes for Israeli democracy, “ranging from judicial appointments to political influence on the justice system.”

Over the years, Likud "has distorted the original character of the State of Israel, which was socialist,” explained the Christian leader, “in favour of a semi-capitalist policy.”

The lack of great leaders is another factor. “The last one was Shimon Perez, after him, we have had only swindlers.” This is why "many Likud old timers are against Netanyahu's leadership" but cannot stand up to him.

Still, there are signs of reawakening in the country, yesterday's pro-democracy rally for example.

“Yesterday many young people were at the rally,” Makhoul said. “The government promised to support the economy, but so far it has offered only words and this has driven people into the streets.”

“The caretaker government has not yet approved the 2020 budget and things look uncertain,” he added. “Netanyahu is playing his last cards because he knows that he could lose in a fourth election. People have begun to understand that he just wants to save himself.”

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