Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's news conference Tuesday and the hasty measures he dramatically announced are unfortunate testimony to the government's helplessness and indecisiveness. The fact that the leaders of the tent protest over housing prices rushed to reject the government's plan out of hand proves this all the more so.
It seems Netanyahu believed that this time, too, as in other cases such as the Carmel Forest fire, his Bar-Ilan speech on a two-state solution and his recent speech to the U.S. Congress, he would make the best of a bad situation and appear charismatic and proactive. But the protest, which started with tents on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard and the demand for housing solutions, has not waned since the news conference. On the contrary, it is spreading around the country, with a number of large, diverse groups joining in amid a general feeling of anger at the government.
Even those who don't entirely agree with the messages coming out of the protests, marches, hunger strikes and demonstrations blocking traffic can't ignore the protests' vigor, in contrast to the apathy and even impassiveness that characterized the Israeli people in recent years. In the surprising reversal of a process in which sectors of society turned inward, splintering the country and weakening it, the protest has swept up a broad public that has displayed a kind of solidarity and involvement that seemed gone forever.
This is a political protest of clearly political value. It highlights the alienation between the politicians and the country's young people, shaking up a government that is based on a broad and secure coalition. The protest also reveals the weakness of Netanyahu, who promised land reform and the reform of planning and construction procedures but failed to deliver.
More than anything, the protest places civilian issues front and center in the public discourse, with distribution of resources, concentration of economic power, the link between big business and government and the state's obligation to its citizens at the top of the list.
In a society that has always highlighted the citizen's obligation to the state, and after years in which matters involving defense and the army have crowded out civilian issues, this is an important and refreshing change. The government would do well to conduct talks with the demonstrators that show openness and attentiveness. Instead of miracle solutions, it should offer responsible and wise policy.
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