Skip To Content
Israel News

‘We’re all Amir Haskel’ say Jerusalem protesters. Who is Amir Haskel?

At first glance, Amir Haskel is an unlikely leader of the protest movement against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: a retired general who has spent much of the past two decades researching the Holocaust.

But he leaped into the public eye last month when he was arrested by police at a protest and detained for over a day.

On Tuesday, the general was back.

Haskel stood among several thousand Israelis massed outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, calling for his resignation while facing corruption charges, in the latest expression of mass discontent with the prime minister.

Former Israeli Brigadier General Amir Haskel leads anti-Netanyahu protestors

Former Israeli Brigadier General Amir Haskel leads protestors anti-Netanyahu protestors outside the prime minister’s residence, July 14, 2020 Image by Ilan Ben Zion

The massive gathering came just a few days after Israeli police and Jerusalem municipal officials swept through the protest camp and confiscated the demonstrators’ tents, chairs, banners and other equipment.

Protesters claimed the police used excessive force, while city authorities contended the sit-in “was placed without a permit and harms public order.”

Many participants wore T-shirts and protective face masks bearing the words “crime minister.”

With a touch of the biblical, dozens wore T-shirts with a quote from Isaiah 1 that has become one of the protest’s slogans: “Alas, she has become a harlot, the faithful city that was filled with justice, where righteousness dwelt…Your rulers are rogues and cronies of thieves, every one avid for presents and greedy for gifts.”

Police look on as protesters gather outside prime minister's residence on Balfour Jerusalem

Police look on as protesters gather outside prime minister’s residence on Balfour Jerusalem Image by Ilan Ben Zion

Netanyahu is under indictment in three separate cases involving accepting bribes, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu’s criminal trial began last month, and since then the “Black Flag” protesters calling for him to step down have set up a protest camp outside his residence in Jerusalem.

The accusations against Netanyahu include accepting lavish gifts from billionaire friends, and orchestrating positive media coverage from media barons in exchange for favorable legislation. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, accusing law enforcement and the media of a witch hunt and “attempted coup” to depose him from office. As prime minister, he is not legally required to resign from office while facing criminal indictments.

In spite of Israel’s struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic and address its crippling economic impact, demonstrations outside Netanyahu’s residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street have gathered steam.

On June 26, Haskel and others held a Friday afternoon rally outside Netanyahu’s Balfour Street residence. The demonstration had been cleared with the police. But shortly after the crowds started massing and spilling into the street, an officer arrested Haskel on the grounds of violating the conditions of the protest.

Haskel and seven others were detained and questioned by police, and conditioned their release on posting 5,000 shekels ($1440) in bail and assenting to a ban from entering Jerusalem for 15 days.

Haskel and two others refused. Because Shabbat was beginning and they couldn’t be brought before a judge, the protesters were put in jail. That Saturday evening a judge ordered their immediate release without condition.

Following his release from custody, Haskel assembled a press conference and said that “a line was crossed that must not be crossed.”

“The reason for my arrest was a desire to silence the protest against the person accused of a crime, Benjamin Netanyahu,” he said. “If my arrest, and the arrest of two of my friends, lit the flame, the price was worth it.”

Indeed, Haskel’s arrest sparked public outcry and has galvanized Netanyahu’s opponents, who have taken to the streets in even greater numbers. Over the unceasing din of horns and whistles and chants audible for blocks around on Tuesday, a woman who identified only as Sisi wore a shirt with the words “We’re all Amir Haskel.”

“Since they arrested him the protests have grown even more,” she said, noting she had traveled to Jerusalem from her hometown of Shlomi near the border with Lebanon. “Yesterday they came and brutally broke up everything here, so that’s why even more people came.”

Haskel is a straight-talking career soldier who served 32 years in the Israeli Air Force, first as a pilot, then as a squad commander, until ultimately rising to the rank of brigadier general. Since his retirement from the military in 2003, he has devoted his time to studying and researching the Holocaust and has published three books on the subject.

“The greatest insight that I have learned is that the inclination of most people is to stand on the sideline, and I grasped just how dangerous standing aside is,” Haskel said in a telephone interview.

Now the Balfour Street sit-in is his new command post. Since mid-June, he spends most days of the week entrenched there, wearing a black T-shirt and hat emblazoned with the anti-Netanyahu slogan “No way.”

Haskel said three main motivators propelled him to participate in protests against the Netanyahu government starting in October 2016: the fading prospects of a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, which he called “foremost an Israeli necessity;” Netanyahu’s “brutal attacks on the left and the identification of the left as enemies of the state” and sowing of deep divisions in Israeli society; and the prime minister’s “ongoing undermining of the foundations of Israeli democracy.”

“A country whose society is laid waste and torn asunder has no future,” Haskel said.

“I don’t remember a period like this in the history of Israel: a time of an absence of trust in the leadership, a situation in which the Knesset effectively doesn’t function, a wasteful government and a lack of faith in politicians,” Haskel said.

Netanyahu’s refusal to step down in the face of criminal indictments is anathema to Haskel. “I don’t know an enlightened country among those that we aspire to emulate, in which a prime minister remains in office when facing a criminal trial for fraud, bribery and breach of trust at the same time. This cannot be, this is not correct.”

Like many other participants in the growing protests, he hopes public pressure will bring about change. But unlike many other former generals — among them Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, and opposition lawmakers Yair Golan and Moshe Yaalon — Haskel said he is “not suited” for Israeli politics and isn’t considering a run for public office.

“Israel prides itself on the fact that it has the most moral military in the world,” Haskel said. “I want the state of Israel to be proud of the fact that it has the most moral politicians, government and prime minister in the world. And if you ask me, I want a prime minister who is foremost trustworthy, who leads by example with his behavior, who looks citizens in the eye.”

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning journalism this Passover.

In this age of misinformation, our work is needed like never before. We report on the news that matters most to American Jews, driven by truth, not ideology.

At a time when newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall. That means for the first time in our 126-year history, Forward journalism is free to everyone, everywhere. With an ongoing war, rising antisemitism, and a flood of disinformation that may affect the upcoming election, we believe that free and open access to Jewish journalism is imperative.

Readers like you make it all possible. Right now, we’re in the middle of our Passover Pledge Drive and we still need 300 people to step up and make a gift to sustain our trustworthy, independent journalism.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Only 300 more gifts needed by April 30

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.