Israel protests may dent Netanyahu's ego, but do they threaten his power?

Oliver Holmes Jerusalem correspondent
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Images of thousands of people in the streets and police scuffling with protesters paint a picture of an increasingly isolated prime minister whose lengthy grip over Israel may finally be loosening.

The visuals are striking, and the protests have certainly grown in size, yet whether they can hurt more than Benjamin Netanyahu’s ego is still to be seen.

Dismissing the rallies as a ploy by his political enemies, Netanyahu has accused what he says is a sympathetic media of making the demonstrations seem more significant than they truly are.

While his rhetoric has been slammed as authoritarian in style, the 70-year-old leader may have somewhat of a point.

Both his supporters and opponents agree the politician, who has been in power since 2009, has incredible staying power.

While one of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert, stepped down after it appeared he would be indicted, Netanyahu confidently refused to leave power after he was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Furthermore, if they had wanted to, Israelis have had many chances to oust him. Within the past two years alone, due to a political crisis propelled by Netanyahu’s refusal to give up his seat, the country has held three back to back elections.

In two of those votes, Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party won the largest share of the vote in Israel’s parliament. And in the one in which Likud came second, Netanyahu still managed to block the opposition from coming to power. At the same time, Netanyahu has proved the loyalty of his party, fending off an internal leadership challenge in December.

The pandemic has brought in a wildly new set of circumstances, and polls show Netanyahu’s approval ratings have steeply declined. Yet at the same time, the Likud party and its nationalist allies remain extremely popular.

Hebrew language media outlets reported possibly 10,000 people protesting in Jerusalem on Saturday night. But Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving leader, knows there are around 9 million more people in Israel. It is them he thinks about.