Adjust size of text


Follow us and continue the conversation

Your saved articles

You haven't saved any articles

What are you looking for?

Israel Hamas WarFeatureIsrael

Mass protests: ‘I am enraged that the hostages are pawns in Netanyahu’s games’

Protesters marched on the PM’s house this week as hostage families merged with the anti-government camp in their demands on him to resign.
Eetta Prince-Gibson
Print this
April 4 protest horse SIPA

A protester looks at a police horse during a demonstration on April 4 (Eyal Warshavsky/SOPA)

Published: 4 April 2024

Last updated: 4 April 2024

Last Sunday, tens of thousands of Israelis came out in Jerusalem to call for a return of the 134 hostages still held in captivity in Gaza and for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation.  It was the largest protest since the massacre of October 7, which put an end to nine months of protesting against the government’s judicial overhaul.

The demonstration kicked off three days of protests, rallies and activities in Jerusalem, including hundreds of tents in the Sachar Garden near the Knesset and the government offices.

As the week winds down, it has become clear that the protest movement has significantly changed, in both composition and tone.

Sunday’s demonstration marked the official merger of two camps, the camp of families of the hostages and the broader anti-government camp. Although there has been some overlap between the two, formally they had kept themselves separate, but in mid-March, the family members closed down the so-called Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, where they have held vigils since mid-October.

“Many of the families didn’t want to become ‘political’,” a public relations professional who has worked with the hostage families’ advocacy group told The Jewish Independent.  “They wanted to direct all their attention to bringing their loved ones home. They were afraid if they became partisan, they would lose public support and would anger the government, and the hostages would pay the price.”

But as the war drags on, and the appalling situation of the hostages becomes clearer, both the public and the families are increasingly blaming the government for the non-return of the hostages. According to a poll published in early March, fully 45% of Israelis believe that Netanyahu is deliberately holding back on a deal to release the hostages in order to appease his extreme right ministers and constituent base; in a previous poll,  53% said they believe he is primarily motivated by personal interest, and only 33% said he is acting for the good of the country.

The families may have also been pushed by the increasingly hostile responses they have encountered from this government. In the past, family members of hostages, terrorist victims, or soldiers who died or were killed during their service, have held a revered position within Israeli society. Few would dare to argue in public with any position that any family member expressed; their status as those who paid such a high price for welfare and security of the State of Israel was almost unassailable.

But as the country becomes increasingly polarised and divided, the quality and tone of public discourse have deteriorated. In a particularly telling incident, last week, MK Yitzhak Pindrus from United Torah Judaism, crudely dissed family members who were protesting the Knesset’s decision to begin their spring recess despite the ongoing crisis, in an expression that could be translated as “get out of my face”.

We tried not to anger anyone, to be polite. No more. Netanyahu only cares about his personal survival.

Einav Zangauker

Einav Zangauker, whose son Matan is being held in Gaza, told TJI that although she has long voted for Netanyahu, she no longer trusts or supports him. “We played by ‘the rules’,” she says. “We tried not to anger anyone, to be polite, to be understanding of the pressures on the government, not to anger the public. No more. Netanyahu only cares about his personal survival; I care about my son’s and all the hostages’ lives.”

Speaking at Monday night’s demonstration, Zangauker addressed Netanyahu from the stage in front of tens of thousands.  “I am calling on you, Mr Prime Minister…and I suggest that you listen to me very carefully.  It is almost Passover. You are the Pharoah, [you are] causing the plague of the death of the first born…. It is your fault that my son, Matan, is in captivity and is being tortured there.”

Merav Svirsky, whose parents were murdered on Kibbutz Beeri on October 7 and whose brother was kidnapped and then murdered, also spoke to the crowd. “I was naïve,” she declared.  I didn’t understand that because of his own political interests, our prime minister has no interest in bringing my brother home….

“I didn’t understand that we would turn into his punching bag, and that he just doesn’t care about my brother.  Now we understand that the prime minister is playing political games on the backs of the captives and the families.”

Unsurprisingly, not all of the families agree with the decision to join the protests. Haggai Lober, whose son Jonathan was killed in the war, moved through the crowds holding a large sign, “no more demonstrations,” and tried to engage other family members in arguments. Most refused to engage with him. 

“I know his pain is as great as mine,” said an elderly woman, who declined to identify herself. “I cannot judge him.  But he is letting his political support for Netanyahu blind him to the political reality.”

Over the week, the momentum of the demonstrations grew, and throughout Jerusalem, roads surrounding the Prime Minister’s residence, the Knesset, and the government offices were frequently closed by protesters or the police. 

By Tuesday the atmosphere was hot and the mood had turned angry. “I am angry that my son is not home,” says Zangauker. “I am enraged that the hostages, and their families, are little more than pawns in Netanyahu’s games.”

Following the demonstration outside the Knesset on Tuesday night, thousands of demonstrators, including family members of the hostages, began to march towards the prime minister’s residence, many carrying flaming torches. At several points, they clashed violently with the police as they tried to break through barriers. 

The police responded by using skunk and a water cannon. According to the police, one demonstrator threw a lit torch at a policeman, who required medical attention. A video taken by the protesters shows police forces dragging Ayala Metzger, the daughter-in-law of hostage Yoram Metzger, across the ground. Five protesters were arrested.

Protester holds a placard outside Benjamin Netanyahu's residence (Eyal Warshavsky/SOPA)
Protester holds a placard outside Benjamin Netanyahu's residence (Eyal Warshavsky/SOPA)

Even before the violence on Tuesday evening, at a press conference on Sunday, as the demonstration was at its height, Netanyahu tried to take the lead and warned that “the calls for an election will now paralyse the negotiations for freeing our hostages”.

By Wednesday morning, the airwaves and social media were full of accusations against the protesters. Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, criticised the General Security Services, claiming that they had allowed the demonstrators to endanger the lives of Netanyahu and his family.

"I demand that the Shin Bet wake up immediately and take seriously the security of the prime minister of Israel and his family," Ben-Gvir declared on Israel radio. “A situation where thousands of people break into the area of the prime minister's house and the Shin Bet turns a blind eye is unacceptable."

Religious Zionist party MK Simcha Rothman, in a message posted on X, called Tuesday night's events a red line. "Throwing a torch at a policeman has nothing to do with freeing the hostages. Lighting a fire in the middle of the road does not advance a deal,” he declared.

And Yair Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s son, who is residing in Miami, Florida, tweeted, “torch-lit marchers were a hallmark of the Nazis”.

Speaking on Israeli radio, former IDF deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan, who is campaigning in the upcoming primaries to head the Labor Party, stated that there was never any threat to Netanyahu or to his family, and that the statements by MKs and the police were part of Netanyahu’s attempt to create antagonism towards the families.

The Brothers and Sisters in Arms group, who have returned to centre-stage in leading the protests as they did before October 7, published a statement in which they wrote, “we have never been violent and never will be. The protest was resolute. It will continue to be, it will be everywhere, and we will not stop.”

The decision by the hostages’ families and the increased violence represent a new stage in the battle between those demanding that Netanyahu resign immediately and his attempts to survive the crisis.  To do so, he and his supporters will have to control the frame of events, keep public attention on the war, and present the demonstrators as a dangerous element in Israeli society and to the hostages themselves.

As the hostages suffer and the war drags on, it is unclear whether they will be able to do so.

About the author

Eetta Prince-Gibson

Eetta Prince-Gibson, who lives in Jerusalem, was previously Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Report, is the Israel Editor for Moment Magazine and a regular contributor to Haaretz, The Forward, PRI, and other Israeli and international publications.


No comments on this article yet. Be the first to add your thoughts.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

Enter site