Israel Had a Promising Summer of Protests, but Then Came the Fall

Prices are rising, the cottage-cheese discounts are over, the rich are recovering from the blow, the defense budget has grown, the settlements thrive and Daphni Leef is once again looking for an apartment.

It was possibly the most promising summer in Israel's history, but afterward came the fall. It was the most intoxicating summer in our history (not including the deceptive intoxication of the summer of 1967), but perhaps it was also the most misleading one. As in every wild party, the hangover wasn't far behind, with the headaches, nausea and doldrums.

On the night of July 23 the masses thronged to the streets. It was less than two weeks after the first tent was set up on Rothschild Boulevard. Something new and exciting was in the air, the likes of which had not been seen before. I wrote at the time: "One day maybe Israelis will be asked by their children, where were you on the night of the 23rd?" Barely half a year later I fear this question may never be asked. Perhaps it no longer matters.

Summer protest - Nir Kafri - January 2012
Nir Kafri

Prices are rising again, the cottage-cheese discounts are over, the rich are recovering from the blow, the defense budget has grown again, the settlements continue to thrive and Daphni Leef is once again looking for an apartment. The housing shortage, which generated that summer, has not decreased one iota. The word "revolution" has been returned, for the time being, to the history books and dictionaries, and very few still speak about change. The city square is deserted again.

Between the first tent in July and the last to be uprooted from Rothschild Boulevard in October, hope broke forth. Many felt they were a people again. The language, agenda, political jargon, spirit and above all, the power order, changed. Civil society finally woke up and took action. No longer will our fate be sealed merely by cynical politicians and narrow-minded generals.

Tent-dwellers from cities and the periphery, protesters and homeless people alike, felt the power was in their hands. The routine security language was replaced by socio-civil language, the wealthy-worship changed into contempt for their way of life.

But the protest was too impatient, good-tempered and polite. It craved consensus and didn't dare touch the really critical issues, like the defense budget and occupation. But without changing these, no revolution is possible.

This was probably the protest movement's fateful mistake. It wanted too much and didn't get enough. It ended with a committee. But a real revolution cannot end with a committee.

So we've had one summer of hope and an autumn of disappointment, but it's too early to say what remains and what has evaporated. That's what deep currents are like - they change course slowly.

"The rest will be told as Israeli history," Professor Manuel Trajtenberg waxed lyrical at the end of his dramatic news conference. The question what remains to be told, if anything, is hovering in the air. So far only free education from age three remains from Trajtenberg's promises. Too little.

The winter of 2012 is different from the winter of 2011. Not as different as the protesters had hoped, but different. Bank Leumi was forced to cancel a foolish charity competition due to consumers' protest over the participation of Zo Artzeinu, the grandiose weddings of the filthy rich have disappeared and a group of Knesset members had to forfeit the initiative to cancel price tags on supermarket products. The fact that Knesset members even dared to propose such a thing means the protest has failed. Their retraction means it hasn't failed completely.

One may also assume the next election campaign will not focus only on Iran and the West Bank settlements, but also on civil issues.

Daphni Leef has become a celebrity, Stav Shafir is traveling throughout the country, Itzik Shmuli is heading for politics. How will we remember them in the winter of 2013? The people demanded social justice and did not get it. The people is still demanding social justice - but much less.