Unused protest signs at a Tel Aviv demonstration on August 4 2012.
Unused protest signs at a Tel Aviv demonstration on August 4 2012. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Several thousand people took part in two separate demonstrations in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. The first, outside the Tel Aviv Museum, was an attempt to combine the demand for “equal duty” (drafting Arabs and ultra-Orthodox into national and military service) with calls for social justice.

The second, initiated by social protest activists who are splitting into splinter groups, marched from Habima Square to the complex of government offices on Kaplan Street.

The first demonstration was covered intensively by the media, the second much less so. Surprisingly, there was no great difference between the number of demonstrators in each gathering.

The effort to portray the museum demo as a unified gathering of all the social protest groups failed, at least this time – perhaps due to demonstration fatigue, or to a basic suspicion of such a strange coalition of present and future politicians.

There were many gaps in the crowd outside the museum, certainly in comparison to the 20,000 who showed up a month ago at the last protest mounted by the "common camp."

This time, only several thousand showed up. Hundreds of signs prepared in advance, reading "This is Enough," remained unclaimed.

Activists of Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party stood at the entrance to the street, handing stickers and black party shirts to anyone who'd take them. The percentage of older people at the museum demo was higher than the one at Habima Square. They were quiet, polite, not very energetic and generally not excited by the speakers.

Stav Shafir, the petite redhead who was one of the leaders of last year's mass demos for social justice,  who joined the museum demo, was criticized by her comrades from last year's demonstrations.

She drew criticism from some of her peers for opting to cooperate with the "common camp," student leader Itzik Shmuli and the hovering presence of Yair Lapid.

She said that this was the way to expand the protest, which is limited this year in comparison to last year; that a speech dealing with social justice and criticizing the current social-economic order would receive greater exposure.

It didn't work.

Her new friends aren't interested in changing the system. More than anything else, they wish to position themselves as the leaders of the protest, believing that their precise agenda can be formulated later, before the primaries of the political parties or the general elections.

Some 2,000 people attended the “social justice” demonstration and eventually clashed with police forces. These were mostly the same people who have attended all the demonstrations this summer, representing the spirit of last year's huge gatherings. As far as they're concerned, focusing on "equality of duty" – targeting ultra-Orthodox and Arabs, is a successful method of intensifying the conflict by inciting one social group against another.