The demise of Israel’s pampered revolutionaries

The leaders of Israel’s social protest movement are rallying their scattered forces for another showdown on Saturday night. The consensus in the media is that it will be a muted affair; like the defeated remnants of Stalingrad dragging themselves to yet another hopeless battle.

My impression is that the social protest movement has imploded. The reasons for that are instructive. In my view they include:

  • There was never any real substance to the movement. It was a summer diversion, rather than an explosion of real, pent-up anger or deep disquiet. There is something  of the dilettante in the Israeli character; we are superficially good at many things, but we lack depth and staying power.
  • The leaders of the movement were too unskilled and immature to maintain momentum and establish a permanent core of activities and organization that would keep things going. The megalomania of movement founder Daphna Leef in a press conference she gave yesterday encapsulated the problem. Instead of displaying the commitment and determination that one would expect of a revolutionary leader, she was childish and mindlessly arrogant.
  • There was no discernible strategy. The leaders of the movement rejected the incremental gain offered by the Trajtenberg Committe without positing anything realistic in its place. Rejecting incrementalism is a time-honored Bolshevik tradition,of course, but our pampered social protesters don’t have the backbone of Bolsheviks. It would have been far better to accept a gain, however limited, and then move on from there.
  • In order to create widespread momentum the movement downplayed the core the the problem: the economic  imbalances caused by out-of-control spending on the military and settlements.  Not that there has been any significant public reaction to this omission, but I suspect that many people have sensed, if only subconsciously, that this was not the real revolution.

Which is not to say that the protest movement was a complete waste of time; it was not. It shone a light on several real problems (though by no means all) and it awakened an anti-authoritarian spirit that had been lying dormant for far too long. But it didn’t have the leadership to capitalize on the moment and the Israeli public is simply far too comfortable and self-satisfied to embark on on Israeli Spring, in the autumn or at any other time in the conceivable future.

The revolutionaries in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia were real have-nots.They could rise up because they had nowhere further to fall. That is not the case in Israel. However hard-done-by we feel, we are still the beneficiaries of a system that favors and enriches us at the expense of the Palestinians. They are the real have-nots in our immediate region, though the huge bulk of us will not be supporting them when the next outbreak of their revolution comes, as it inevitably will. The wailing of sirens this week in Rishon LeZion, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, was a reminder of how close to home it will be the next time around.

The bottom line is that we want both change and the status quo. Better conditions for Israelis but the same old shit for the Palestinians. That’s not going to happen.

On another note. I really enjoyed a piece by Alon Idan in today’s Ha’aretz. I urge you to read it.

2 replies on “The demise of Israel’s pampered revolutionaries”

Roy – I could easily join in on your assessment of the demise of last summer’s tent protest movement – if I had the lifespan of a moth. The impatient are reminded that the other significant sociopolitical change of our times, following the 1973 Yom Kippur war, started taking visible effect only in the elections of 1977.

The protest tapped a significant deep seated reservoir of energy of change that has just started its flow. I can suggest a short list of issues in progress that are connected, directly and indirectly, with the protest: price reductions by dairies and supermarkets, the doctors’ struggle for public medicine, Histadrut action against outsourcing jobs to salve-driving contractors, the Trajtenberg report, the government commission on market decentralization, and the alternative Spivak-Yona commission report.

Most important, the tone of public discourse is changing. Accepting rather than hateful, trusting rather than cynical, self assured rather than self conscious.
Daphne Leef, with all her natural talent for leadership is not the issue. She and her generation are teaching us that everybody is connected. In the end, we will also achieve a just solution with the Palestinians.

On the other hand, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions took weeks, not months and certainly not years. Even the Libyan revolt was over in seven months (with the assistance of Nato.) Nothing I have seen so far persuades me that the Israeli protest movement has what it takes to persevere and achieve their goals (inchoate as they are.) I will be very happy to be proved wrong.

If there is a changed tone of public discourse, I haven’t heard it and it certainly wasn’t on display in Daphna Leef’s appalling press conference. Can you point me in its direction? “Accepting …,” “trusting …;” next thing they’ll be helping old ladies to cross the road.

Finally, your optimism that Israel will achieve “a just solution with the Palestinians.” I wish I was chewing on the same leaves as you, because I see absolutely no sign of a solution, just or not. After 40-something years of death, destruction, brutality and daily humiliation, I don’t see how any solution can be just. At best, it will be workable.

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