As the Shabbat day turned into dusk, many hundreds of by-and-large secular Israelis who have done their military service and are now spending many weeks each year in reserve duty, gathered at the railway station in the city center, where in recent weeks the “Suckers’ Camp” was built by their brethren. Later in the evening, they all marched to the Tel Aviv Museum on King Saul Street, where the main rally was attracting tens of thousands (police estimate was between 30 and 40 thousand).
The keynote speaker, former GSS chief Yuval Diskin, said: “I served this country for thirty-seven years with love and with hope, and throughout these long years I did not even once, even for one moment, feel that I was a sucker. When I joined, almost everyone enlisted, but when I got out I discovered that we are close to the point where almost no one is enlisting. And that’s the whole story.”
Former Mossad chief, MK Avi Dichter said: “A large public is demanding this evening that which an overwhelming majority of Knesset members demand – a an historic legislation to establish the message: We all serve.”
Dichter added that “everything is leading to a bill to be prepared in the next few days.”
Student Union Chairman Itzik Shmully, who was a leader of last summer’s popular movement for social change in Israel, spoke from the podium to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“Mr. Prime Minister, tonight is the time for your own personal decision. All of Israel expects you, the Prime Minister of Israel, to make the most important decision in your public life and decide – are you a politician or Leader?” Shmuly said.
“If you are a politician – go ahead and establish build more panels and committees. If you’re a leader – make clear decisions! If you are a politician – continue to make deals and play for time. If you’re a leader – find the courage to make the right decisions now. If you are a politician, continue to speculate with our obligation to always defend our country, but if you’re a leader, then your commitment should be to establish here an egalitarian society.”
Several former high-ranking officers picked this evening to show their solidarity with the demonstrators.
Former chief of staff Dan Halutz, dropped a political bombshell in an interview on Meet the Press with Dana Weiss on Channel 2, and announced that he was retiring from Kadima.
“Following the moves of Mofaz and Netanyahu I’m leaving Kadima,” and delivered a jab at his party chairman: “I think we’ve had enough of these games, and politicians who sit in the government should take the actions required of them. For them to demonstrate in this rally would be a cynical move. After all, if they had solved the problem, there won’t be a need for the protest.”
Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz attended the rally, as did MK wannabe Yair Lapid and former Kadima chairperson Tzipi Livni.
Retired general Moshe Kaplinsky attend the rally, having told Channel 2: “I am here because a lot of people here were my soldiers. They are carrying an unreasonable share of the burden.”
Another former chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, took the stage and said that since he celebrated his son’s wedding this week, he could not arrive on time. “I’m glad I’m here, I salute all of you,” he concluded excitedly.
For some background information try Mofaz to Netanyahu: You Must Accept Haredi Conscription.