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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Exactly a year ago this Monday, on August 6, about 150,000 people came together in Tel Aviv, along with another 30,000 in Jerusalem and other locations around the country, to demand social justice. It was just one of a series of huge demonstrations organized by the protest movement that swept Israel.

Although the masses' call for social justice did not focus on concrete demands, no one could mistake the genuine anger that it contained and the unease and frustration that rose to the surface in its wake. This past Saturday evening, only about 5,000 people rallied in Tel Aviv in two separate demonstrations, one in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the other at Habima Square, and their primary preoccupation involved confronting one another, ego battles and factionalism.

This reached its peak when several social justice protesters from the march that departed from Habima made their way to the museum plaza and began confronting supporters of the movement for a universal draft. The scene was a metaphor for what until recently looked like popular protest against the government and a welcome awakening of the generally passive Israeli middle class, but within a short time it has disintegrated into dissension and disagreement.

The two groups of demonstrators are divided over the focus of their concerns. While the social justice protesters underline the need for fundamental changes in economic policy and are interested in furthering the interests of the weaker segments of the population, the group advocating the universal draft are focusing on the demand that all draft-age citizens of the country either serve in the Israel Defense Forces or work in a national service program.

Despite the ideological disparities, it seems that the split between the two camps is also a product of the same old politics against which the leaders of the protest movement took to the streets, backed by hundreds of thousands of supporters.

The issues that created the split are of the kind that are familiar in any existing political entity: who the leader will be; who will be No. 2; who will speak first; whether politicians should be invited; whether sponsorship by an existing political party should be allowed, etc. The fact that these are internal issues of power and control provide a hint that the old order is still with us, even if it has been given a new face.