I've lost count of the number of mass rallies I've been to in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv over the past decade. Everything from "The People are with the Golan" to "No to disengagement from Gaza" has found me standing in the tree-lined square in central Tel Aviv along with tens of thousands of my fellow Israelis.
But tonight's event--billed as an "assembly" not a protest, was the first time I've ever seen such a cross-section of Israelis standing together. The occasion, of course, was a follow-up to the release of a summary of the damning Winograd Report, which raked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz over the coals for their abject failure of leadership in conducting lat summer's Hizbollah war.
When opposing Knesset members, Effie Eitam, from the right-wing National Union party, and Yossi Beilin from the far-left Meretz movement sign a joint op ed piece in the morning paper (Maariv, May 3 2007) calling people to come out to the square, you know there's the potential for a political earthquake.
It seemed to me from my perch at the northeast side of the square, just behind the stage, that while there was a healthy representation of the national religious, knitted kipa crowd, it was an overwhelmingly secular gathering, with a tremendous presence of students and young people, who came not only to join in telling Olmert to resign because of his failed leadership in the war, but also to protest the government's inability to come to a compromise with them over tuition costs.
The side streets around the square were packed with people--mostly subdued, most without signs or flags, although a few choice signs were visible: One, a quote from the Hatikva, our national anthem: "We haven't lost our hope..." Another prevalent sticker stated simply: "Elections Now." It was clear that for many, this was their first demonstration.
Poignant songs by well-known singers interspersed the speeches, delivered not by politicians but by bereaved parents, army reservists and cultural figures who all sounded the same theme--we, the rainbow/mosaic of Israeli citizens are here to tell you: Olmert, you failed, resign.