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Tens of Thousands of Israelis Rally Against Netanyahu in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv

Tens of thousands of Israelis filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday to take part in a protest calling for a change of government ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections.

The Times of Israel reports as many as 40,000 people gathered in the center of Israel’s largest city for the “Israel Wants Change” event, where demonstrators called for the ouster of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The event’s keynote speaker, former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who said he attended the rally “without personal aspirations, not looking for a position,” accused Netanyahu of being more concerned about what is best for his own political career than what is best for Israel.

“We have a leader who fights only one campaign—the campaign for his own political survival,” Dagan told the crowd.

“No one denies that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat, but going to war with the US is not the way to stop it,” asserted Dagan, who made headlines in 2011 when he said that Iran is not attempting to build a nuclear bomb.

“Israel is a country surrounded by enemies, but the enemies are not scaring us,” Dagan said. “I am afraid of our leadership. I am afraid of a loss of determination, of a loss of personal example. I am afraid of hesitancy and stalemate, and I am afraid above all of the crisis of leadership, a leadership crisis that is the most severe ever here.”

Dagan continued: “Benjamin Netanyahu has served as prime minister for six years straight, six years in which he has not led a single genuine process of change to the face of the region or the creation of a better future. On his watch, Israel conducted the longest campaign since the War of Independence.”

Addressing Netanyahu directly, Dagan asked, “Why should you be responsible for our fate if you are so afraid to take responsibility?”

“We deserve leadership that will set new priorities. It has long not been a question of left wing and right wing. It’s a question of a path, a vision, a different horizon,” he concluded.

Haaretz reports Michal Kesten-Keidar, widow of Lt. Col. Dolev Keidar, who was killed in last year’s war in Gaza, pleaded with Israeli voters to elect leadership that would work to avoid more bloodshed.

“How many women like me will lose their heart until we reach an agreement?,” asked Kesten-Keidar. “An entire election campaign has gone by without remembering the blood that was shed over the summer. But last summer, I lost the love of my life during the war, and I came here to request of you, when you go to cast your ballots, to vote for who will prevent the next war, for who is prepared to do everything possible to prevent more deaths.”

Sixty-six Israeli soldiers and six Israeli civilians were killed during Operation Protective Edge, which was waged in response to thousands of rockets fired by Hamas and other militant groups resisting seven decades of Israeli policies and actions in Palestine, which include ethnic cleansing during the Jewish state’s founding, economic privation, and continuing occupation and colonization of Palestinian territory by Jewish settlers. Between 2,100 and 2,300 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed by Israel’s ferocious air, land and sea assault on the tiny and densely-populated Gaza strip.

Saturday’s rally was organized by the One Million Hands movement, and drew Israelis from all walks of life, but supporters of progressive parties including Meretz, Zionist Movement and Peace Now were heavily represented.

Hillel Fertouk, a spokesman for the demonstration, told the Jerusalem Post it was a “political, nonpartisan rally.” Fertouk insisted no political parties were behind its organization, and that the movement’s objective is “to shift the priorities of Israel towards investing in education, health, public housing, the cost of living, helping the elderly and the periphery, and finding a political solution to the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict.”

Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party responded to the massive demonstration by accusing leftists backed by foreign donors of trying to oust him from office and replace him with a left-wing government led by Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni.

Likud said it is “strange that Dagan says now that he does not believe in the current leadership after he himself asked to have his term as Mossad chief extended by Netanyahu.”

“The irresponsible blabbing of Dagan caused great harm to the security of the state,” Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Yariv Levin, a Likud member, told the Jerusalem Post. “Dagan is acting out of clear political motives. His hatred for the prime minister has blinded him long ago from seeing reality.”

A pro-Netanyahu rally is scheduled for next Saturday in Rabin Square. Following the prime minister’s controversial speech to the US Congress, which was boycotted by President Barack Obama and dozens of Democrat lawmakers, a Channel 1 poll gives Likud and Zionist Union 24 Knesset seats each.

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