Part 1 of this series revisited the Cell Phone Revolution in Manila, Philippines, which spurred abdication of then-President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada in 2001, for insights into intensifying Israelis protests against Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu on similar grounds of Fraud, Breach of Trust and accepting Bribes. Now as the world awaits the results of the US 2020 Presidential election, its a good time to give more thought to the parallels between Erap and Bibi.
To recap: then-President Estrada was able to stay in office only so long as he retained the support of the Filipino people, including critical support of prominent business people and organizations like the Makati Business Club or MBC. Once business was mobilized against the President’s engagement in fraud and corruption in January 2001, the writing was on the wall and the end of the Erap era.
Fast forward to Israel in 2020, where organized demonstrations against Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu have continued for nineteen (19) weeks and counting. These ever-expanding demonstrations against Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu have grown exponentially geographically, even when limited numerically during the recent second COVID-19 Lock-Down:
While the [COVID-19 Lock-down] regulations were in effect, protesters demonstrated at over a thousand designated points across the country, allowing Israelis to demonstrate near their homes.“Anti-Netanyahu Protests Resume in Jerusalem, Across Israel, in Shadow of Right-wing Violence,” Haaretz, Bar Peleg, Noa Shpigel, Nir Hasson, Josh Breiner
Published on 17.10.2020
Netanyahu tried to use COVID-19 as a pretext to shut down demonstrations – undeterred by lack of evidence that they were a significant cause of infection. In trying to silence Israelis, Bibi ended up exponentially expanding the number of demonstrations – concerned citizens actually found it more convenient to protest locally at intersections, bridges and other locations close to home.
The COVID lock-down spawned widespread and continuing local protests at 1,275 intersections, street and bridges across the country. Similarly, use of excessive police force – and tacit encouragement of violent counter-protesters – failed to deter demonstrators. Now that the second lock-down is being lifted in stages, large-scale ‘cast of thousands’ rallies have been renewed in Tel Aviv and at the Prime Minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.
Like Filipino protesters in 2001, they chant for Netanyahu’s resignation based on his ongoing criminal corruption charges (and call for investigation of serious allegations of criminality in the additional submarine case), poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and the related economic crisis.
Like Filipino protesters in 2001, protesters are increasingly composed of middle-aged business people. Bibi’s mischaracterization of protesters as leftwing anarchists do them and him a disservice.
Netanyahu is already facing imminent criminal trials on 3 serious indictments for Fraud, Breach of Trust and Accepting a Bribe. He already tried and failed to pass special legislation to give him immunity from prosecution. So it does not help Bibi to find a ‘political’ solution to avoid full investigation of the Submarine case – which dwarfs the criminal charges he is already facing – and further erodes his political legitimacy.
The bottom line: If there is any lesson to be taken from the 2001 Filipino Cell Phone Revolution, the increasing participation of middle-aged, middle and upper-middle class businesspeople in ongoing weekly demonstrations does not bode well for Bibi’s political half-life.
In 2001 then-President Erap was acutely aware that there are times to stand and fight, and times for strategic retreat – to live to fight another day. He did not oppose the clear political will of the people and exited the Presidency with an element of grace. Erap rose again, most recently completing service as the multi-term mayor of Manila (political and commercial capital of the Philippines) after receiving a pardon from his political successor in office. Erap’s timely if abrupt departure from the Presidency helped to ensure that the events of 2001 are only a part of his political legacy for the Philippines.
Until now Bibi has shown little inclination to do the same. There is no indication that he is fully aware of the antipathy against him, antipathy that is growing by the day and the week as he places his personal interests above those of the public. Perhaps if Trump – Bibi’s close and important ally – goes down to defeat in the American 2020 presidential election Netanyahu will recognize that there is a limit to everything. It does not take a Professor of History to recognize that how Bibi reacts now will help shape not only Israel’s immediate future, but his own political legacy.