Why Did Israel’s Social Justice Movement Fall Flat This Summer?
In this edition of Point-Counter-Point , Senior Research Fellow Yossi Klein Halevi talks with his daughter, Moriah Halevi, about the Israeli social justice movement’s failed summer of protest.
In the summer of 2011, Israel experienced the largest social protest movement in its history. Yet this past summer the movement failed to repeat that success.
Still, I was struck by the disparity between how the media reported on the virtual collapse of the social protest movement and how energized you were when you came back from the movement’s demonstrations in Tel Aviv.
What was it that you experienced with your friends this summer that the rest of us seemed to miss?
The exhilaration I felt was a result of my generation’s initiative in reevaluating the socioeconomic priorities of our country.
The disparity you speak of is, in my opinion, more the result of the media’s bias against the movement and less a result of an actual collapse. While the goals of the movement admittedly remain abstract, there is a new-found discourse among my generation, and the hope of creating a future leadership.
Even if no immediate legislative changes happen in the next year, don’t you think it’s already an amazing achievement to have a generation of twenty-somethings discussing economic morality, budget distribution and the importance of creating a strong middle class?
I agree with you that the social protest movement is already an historic success. It has proved wrong all those of my generation who dismissed your generation as lost in gadget-land. I too sense that the protest movement may produce some of the future leaders of Israel. Your involvement has made me very proud as a father, and very hopeful as an Israeli.
But I don’t agree that the media are biased against the movement. Last summer the media were almost uniformly ecstactic about the protests. So I think the movement needs to confront itself with some hard questions about why so many Israelis who supported the protests last summer seemed so indifferent this summer.
One reason, I think, is the emergence of divisions within the movement, and even rival demonstrations. Also, the tone became angrier and more divisive. The acts of violence alienated many of us. Last summer I spent many hours walking the main tent camp on Rothschild Boulevard [in Tel Aviv], listening to conversations and arguing with protesters, and the atmosphere was almost always respectful. I felt an edge this year that kept me away from the protests.
But maybe the biggest reason why the movement didn’t excite mainstream Israel this year is because it seems to have missed what is most on the minds of Israelis. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, terrorism in Sinai, the threat of chemical weapons in Syria, Hezbollah’s missiles aimed at Tel Aviv and most of all the Iranian nuclear program – all have refocused our attention back to the external threats facing us.
That doesn’t mean we should suppress the debate over domestic change – the urgent message of the protest movement is that we can’t afford to continue avoiding that debate, even with all our security concerns.
But when the protest movement calls for cuts in the military budget – at a time when we could be facing regional war – then many of us wonder about its judgment.
Isn’t it funny how my generation, which was seen as being numbed by technology, has, in this case, used Facebook as an alternative media platform, promoting activism rather than apathy?
I appreciate your sentiment about the movement making you proud, despite your doubts about it. It’s good to know that even those less sympathetic to its ideology are still willing to listen to its ideas.
It is important to me to point out one major difference between this year’s and last year’s protests. Last year the rise of the tent camp happened so quickly, and was so adored by the press and the public, that the authorities grudgingly let it remain. This year the attempt was brutally suppressed, and the initiators arrested. The shift can’t be attributed to the protesters alone, if at all. Last summer’s tent camp provided an appealing, festive common ground. Dialogue was celebrated, and the points of view were so diverse the debates made my head spin. This year, there was no physical space for that to happen.
I’m glad you brought up the security concerns, Abba. I think of the protest movement at this point as a kind of think tank. It serves as a platform for ideas to be voiced and debated. I personally wouldn’t choose any of the current leaders of the movement to design a military budget. I would, however, trust them to ask good questions about it. A budget that isn’t questioned is a budget that naturally inflates. And even from a security standpoint, the military should strive to operate with economy.
There is a notion that critical thinking regarding Israel’s military conduct will weaken our defenses, soften us, turn us into “fryerim,” suckers. I think this motivation for resorting to offense as a means of defense derives directly from our nation’s post-traumatic stress disorder. We are a religion and a people who fear being eliminated at any time. I think my generation, the third generation after the Holocaust, has begun to see our potential for growth and for permanence. We are saying that it is time for Israel to graduate from its survival mode, and aspire to higher levels of functionality, morality and quality of life.
I hope none of the threats facing Israel, especially the Iranian threat, will actually happen. I know they might. I still don’t think that gives the government permission to ignore issues of social welfare. Do you think these are frivolous demands? And what do you think is a step the government could take to develop a stronger social economy?
Lots of love,
You ask what the government should do to develop a stronger social economy. First of all, resume the dialogue it began with protesters last year. We need to take your challenge – and your commitment – seriously. We can’t squander the moment your generation has created, allow the hope opened last summer to turn to cynicism.
I especially appreciate the longing of your generation for the normal national life which Zionism promised the Jewish people. It is unbearable to me, as a parent most of all, that the question of Jewish survival, which should have been resolved in 1948, has now carried into the third generation after the Shoah.
I don’t believe that Israel, for all the mistakes it has made and continues to make, is fundamentally responsible for the rejection by most of its neighbors of its right to exist. I don’t believe we are responsible for the pathological hatred against us that is spreading through much of the Muslim world. That hatred isn’t about what Israel does but what Israel is.
Still, the protest movement has reminded us that we need to cherish the longing for a different reality. Maybe it is the responsibility of my generation, which grew up in promixity to the Holocaust, to remind your generation that threats to our survival need to be taken seriously. And maybe it is the responsibility of your generation to remind mine that a Jewish agenda based primarily on survivalism isn’t worthy of our survival.