A cloud of smoke rose from the building housing the Egyptian parliament's upper chamber. The hundreds of people crowding the streets leading to the building took out their cellphones and began taking pictures. A bit later, a helicopter appeared overhead to inspect the building, which had erupted in flames, and was followed later by an outmoded fire truck.
There was no panic among the crowd, nor was their remorse or frustration. "So what if the building and anyone inside burns," someone blurted out. "I hope so," said another. "Throw the government into the fire. We'll get rid of both of them for the same price," said an elegant woman, seemingly hypnotized by the sight of parliament on fire.
The disgust and hatred, and especially the detachment from the building representing "government by the people" couldn't find more fitting expression. All this occurred in August 2008. Less than three years later, the revolution broke out. The Egyptian parliament is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the people in power. When it doesn't fulfill its role, the president can send it home.
The revolution in Egypt was a realization of the regime's nightmare. It revived direct democracy, which doesn't require a parliament. The public decides what's good for it and keeps on demonstrating until its demands are met or it is wiped out by the regime.
Direct democracy has also awakened on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard and in the Hatikva neighborhood, in Be'er Sheva and on the highway to Jerusalem. It's not waiting for the people's elected representatives to do the work. No one is waiting for opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Likud MK Miri Regev, Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich or any of the other 117 people's representatives, because no one believes in their abilities anymore.
The Knesset is a vacuous institution. It's an unfeeling legislative machine that produces laws on the whims of its members without connection to the public's needs. Such nationalist, racist and demagogic laws will engrave the names of their sponsors on the tombstone of democracy but won't improve the people's quality of life.
Direct democracy is appealing. Our hearts go out to the doctors, the medical residents and the young housing protesters in the tents expressing the public's revulsion of everything that's bad here. Even those who manage to buy two apartments and pay NIS 3,000 a month for private nursery school applaud the sight of a protest that's making Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet colleagues sweat.
Even multimillionaires don't like to pay more for milk, but they would never take to the streets against the high prices. They set them, but so they don't come out the guilty party, they join the demonstrations. All of a sudden, they are part of the people.
Direct democracy, however, is also an expression of the bankruptcy of the system of government. It's not a matter of multimillionaires, but rather setting limits on their behavior. We're dealing with 120 masquerading legislators acting as if they don't belong to society. Next week the Knesset will begin its summer recess, as if there were no urgency, no popular uprising. The schedule has to be adhered to since vacations are planned in advance. In fact, why not adjourn for the summer? Why not let the multimillionaires propose a new budget to the government? Why shouldn't the Histadrut labor federation negotiate with the government on behalf of the demonstrators?
That's exactly what has happened. The Knesset has lost its meaning. Direct action by the citizens blossoms when the legislators become deaf, when the target for blame, as in Egypt, Syria and Libya, is the head of the executive branch, who doesn't need to report to the legislative branch. The Knesset can recess, and only when it's clear which way the wind is blowing, its members, meaning our representatives, can emerge from their foxholes and deliver their speeches.
What's happening on Rothschild Boulevard and at dozens of other sites is not just a fight over the cost of housing, cottage cheese or day care. It's a fight over the image of the governing authorities and against the futility of public representatives who haven't even managed to organize an opposition. "The people" in Israel don't need to call for the removal of those in power, since those in power will submit to pressure from the street. The authorities here are no more resilient than the Egyptian or Tunisian regimes. "The people" must be taken into account by their representatives, completely and immediately.
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