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Virtual ‘Balfour protest’ expected to draw hundreds of thousands

As Israel enters its second coronavirus lockdown and the number of virus cases rises nationwide, the centrist political movement Darkenu (which often emphasizes its appeal to a “moderate majority”) has decided once again to take a part of the anti-government protests online.

At 8 p.m. on Saturday evening, the movement will be hosting an online protest using Facebook, Twitter and YouTube Live, featuring speakers from a wide variety of fields.

During Israel’s first coronavirus lockdown in March, six months ago this week, Darkenu organized their first virtual protest, which was attended by nearly 830,000 people. “This time we hope to reach one million attendees,” Shany Granot, Darkenu’s VP of Field Operations, told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.

Moreover, the protests in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem have, in the past three months, become a weekly occurrence, routinely drawing thousands to protest a wide range of topics, with Netanyahu at the center.

Critics of Netanyahu have claimed that Netanyahu’s push for a lockdown has been an attempt to quell the protests outside of his residence, though a limited protest was eventually allowed to take place there on Saturday evening.

Though the previous online protest Darkenu organized took place during the first lockdown; this time the idea was planned much more in advance.

“We floated the idea even before the lockdown was announced, after getting hundreds of messages from pregnant women, elderly citizens and others who are in high-risk categories, asking us to set up another virtual protest,” Granot told the Post.

“This protest aims to send a message to the politicians who call us a ‘small group of anarchist weirdos,’ showing them that behind every person who physically goes to Balfour. there are tens, even hundreds of thousands of people, whose hearts lie in Balfour, but refrain from going, for a variety of reasons,” she added.

The Balfour protests have, so far, been structurally disorganized, acting mainly as a large mix of several different individual protests working together, rather than focusing on one narrow issue. Granot said the online protest aims to keep that spirit alive by featuring speakers from a wide variety of fields.

“We have Dan Meridor speaking, who is a right winger, former education minister, Rabbi Shai Piron, Professor Yoram Yovel, comedian and actress Orna Banay, people whose businesses have closed, restaurant owners, people on both the political and financial sides of this protest will be featured.”

In addition, the list of speakers at the protest includes former head of the Shin Bet Carmi Gilon, Chef Eyal Shani, Black Flag Movement leader Shikma Schwartzman, Darkenu CEO Yaya Fink, Journalist Afif Abu Much, restaurant-owner Lilach Sapir and singer Aya Korem.

The Balfour protests have drawn criticism from right-wing politicians (namely Netanyahu himself) for hosting mass gatherings during a pandemic, despite Health Ministry data showing no evidence of them being a major disease vector.

Moreover, as debates over the lockdown restrictions continue, the two most controversial topics under examination have been the right to protest, and the right to perform religious rituals.

“We will not allow ourselves to be divided and pitted against each other.” Granot told the Post.

“The CEO of Darkenu [Yaya Fink] is a religious man. He has been praying outside of his synagogue, and following social distancing guidelines for a while now. We do not subscribe to the division that politicians try to create within the people of Israel. Religious, and Shabbat-observant Jews are a part of us, they are us. They are a part of our struggle and we do not subscribe to that dichotomy.”

Source: Idan Zonshine – JPost