huge protest - Olivier Fitoussi - 05092011
Saturday night’s huge protest: Capital markets rarely respond positively to the possibility of increased government spending, higher budget deficits and a larger national debt. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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In late August, when closing the 100 Movers and Shakers edition of TheMarker Magazine, the talk of the town was the erosion of Israel's social protest. Some blamed escalating hostilities, others said no clear leadership had arisen from the tents. Some suggested that the end of the summer school holiday would spell the movement's end as Israelis return to routine.

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On Saturday night, the doubts died. The protest is alive and kicking.

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Nobody predicted global financial meltdown in 2008. Prediction is a pastime for fools, and people would be wise to forgo issuing forecasts about the protest movement. But TheMarker, which has spent more than 10 years predicting who would be the 100 people who most influence Israel's economy and society, is going out on a limb this year.

We predict that the protest of 2011 is the start of a tectonic plate shift in Israeli society, democracy, and in the public debate in Israel.

Many columns in TheMarker in recent years revealed and analyzed grossly distorted structures in the economy, but ended in the lament that the public, whose future is being looted, sits back watching Big Brother and does nothing. In the summer of 2011, that changed. The public arose.

The result was shocking. Israel's leaders were completely taken aback. Their reaction was hysteria and panic. From the prime minister to the ministers to officialdom, from the big business leaders to the press - their rhetoric changed overnight. Overnight, subjects in consensus became controversial.

Is that all?

Many feel frustrated by the initial results and suspect the steps taken so far won't lead to actual change. But that's because they're taking the short-term view. They don't realize that real change can only come from change in the public discourse over time, from change in knowledge, involvement, from change in norms and values. These are not processes that can be led by committees.

The speed with which the government revivified the Economic Concentration Committee, which had been dithering for a year, and set up a committee headed by Manuel Trajtenberg to study the protest issues, attests to the public's real influence over the people who control Israel's economy. The cottage cheese protest that triggered this upheaval proved for the first time that Israel's biggest companies and most bare-knuckled tycoons (who also control the press ) will fold when the masses awake from their apathy.

Even if the prime minister, the ministers and the committees fold at the last minute before the tycoons, the protest of Summer 2011 sowed the seeds for a new public debate that will be very hard to suppress. There are hundreds of thousands of witnesses.

The protest could be the weapon for the unconnected, the hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of Israelis unseen by "the agenda." The people who aren't sheltered by a monopoly. The people who aren't part of the system, aren't protected by the powerful lobbies, the people whom the politicians don't see, the people left outside the public discourse.

Some of the weakest segments of Israeli society didn't take part in the summer protest. Some don't see themselves as part of Israeli society to begin with. But others didn't come because they have despaired. They see no chance of bearing influence. Yet the protest's success could gradually change the composition of people participating in the discourse; encouraged by the success of the students and middle class, other groups could rise to their feet and take part.

TheMarker launched the Israel 2021 initiative a year ago, seeking to change the public debate in Israel. The underlying concept was that Israel is taking dangerous roads, socially and economically, and that the way to change course isn't through political debate, but through involving the people in creating a new public discourse, an involved one that kept the long-term in mind.

If Israelis feel that the most influential people TheMarker Magazine has been naming for a decade now serve themselves better than the public, that these movers and shakers behave unprofessionally, cynically or selfishly - the public is mainly to blame. Israelis who shrug that they don't believe in politics and don't read the papers, who choose to live in their own little bubbles, are to blame. They are saying, "I will allow the decision makers and the connected to continue to rob my future and that of my children and grandchildren."

The protest of 2011 arose because of housing prices, an issue of immediate urgency to many. But the protesters were joined by a host of people from all walks of society. For the protest to succeed, a critical mass of "unconnected" Israelis need to coalesce: Get up from that armchair, learn the issues, delve deep, act, and speak. The unconnected need to change the way they behave and demand that the leadership changes too.

Until two months ago, that looked terrific, on paper. The theory read well. But then came the summer of 2011 and gave us grounds to believe that the public can have influence, that it can jolt Israel off that slithery slope. But for the protest to grow and become constructive, for it to make a difference, more and more Israelis need to thoroughly understand the issues at stake and grasp that without a fundamental change in values, without social solidarity - the ability to change will wither.

The public - you - can have the greatest influence of all over Israel's economy, society and future. You can call the shots, more than the politicians, the regulators, the tycoons or the journalists who fill the other 99 slots on our list of the 100 top movers and shakers.

Yes, after five years of the whiff of pessimism arising from our 100 list (see pages 10 and 11 ), we admit to optimism, of a new type. There is no greater pleasure than placing you at the top of our list.