Disengagement Rally Boomerangs

Supporters of the expulsion plan handed the nationalist camp unexpected encouragement Saturday night when only 10,000 people showed up for what they called the "Majority's Pro-Disengagement Rally."

, | updated: 23:48

Almost every media outlet reported 5,000-10,000 people at the widely-advertised Tel Aviv demonstration staged by Peace Now. The left-wing Haaretz reported that 10,000-15,000 people demonstrated.

The numbers paled when compared to the 100,000-200,000 people who have appeared at several rallies against the government's disengagement policy. The failure of last night's rally, which was organized by the "Headquarters of the Majority," has been cited as yet another reason to demand that Prime Minister Sharon agree to hold a referendum on the implementation of the plan.

Rally organizers and Labor and Meretz/Yahad politicians were busy explaining away the low numbers, while the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) said the rally was demonstrative of the current situation. "The embarrassing failure of the leftist demonstration proves that the people are indeed against the Sharon plan," said a Yesha spokesman.

Asked to provide a tip or two to Peace Now as to how to organize successful rallies, Yesha Council spokesperson Emily Amrusi told a Peace Now representative on the Knesset channel today with tongue in cheek, "First of all, it helps to have the majority on your side, and it also helps to be right."

The Maariv newspaper's headline blared, "The Left Stayed Home." Peace Now director Yariv Oppenheimer said the police estimates were a "lie" and that there were 50,000 demonstrators. MK Yuli Tamir (Labor) tried to explain away the low numbers by saying, "Fewer people usually come to a rally 'for" than 'against.' The pro-disengagement community is a lot larger and knows the government will continue with its policy. Therefore they do not see any reason to [demonstrate]."

Strategists for the prime minister helped the organizers compose slogans, such as "Sharon, the people will continue with you." They made sure to ask the left-wing camp not to identify too strongly with the government, however. This did not prevent most commentators from summing up, "Ariel Sharon's support now comes from the left."

Organizers failed to convince Likud politicians to speak at the rally, despite their support of Sharon's plan. Likud MK Meir Sheetrit changed his mind and did not come after having agreed to participate.

Shinui Party MKs were conspicuous in their absence. Former MK Yossi Beilin, head of the Meretz party, blamed Shinui leader Yosef Lapid for ordering party members not to attend. Shinui responded that it is not a left-wing party and therefore would not participate.

The evening ended with the playing of HaTikvah, Israel's national anthem, followed by John Lennon's "Imagine," with the words, "Imagine there's no heaven... Imagine all the people living for today... no religion too / Imagine all the people sharing all the world..."

More than 700 police were on hand, about one officer for every 15 demonstrators.