Social protest – 27.8.11
Protesters demonstrating for the return of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit on Ibn Gvirol Street in Tel Aviv on August 27, 2011. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Last night the people demanded social justice again, but a little less than before. After a brief (and unnecessary ) hiatus due to the situation in the south the protest returned last night, but not bigger and better than ever. This wasn't the massive turnout of previous weeks, merely 20,000 or so in the streets of Tel Aviv. The main absentee was the spirit of demonstrations past. Shortly before the march was due to start Ibn Gvirol Street resembled itself on Yom Kippur: Thundering silence, and people strolling in the road.

When the emcee addressed the crowd, saying, "And now for the greatest hit of all times, 'The people demand social justice,'" it was obvious that the protest hit parade was halted. The addition of the movement to free Gilad Shalit to last night's demonstration signaled a dilution of the protest. Last night there were more national flags, more blue and white for Shalit and less social-justice red.

Israel Communist Party (Hadash ) activists could be seen carrying dozens of unwanted signs back to their cars. The images of Shalit, Benjamin Netanyahum and Yitzhak Tshuva heading up the demonstration were an odd, unclear and superfluous mixture. Blended messages are destined to break down.

Shalit deserves his own, enormous demonstrations, boldly announcing that his release can only be achieved by releasing a thousand Palestinian prisoners. Social justice deserves its own giant demonstration, but there's not enough room for both of them on the same electricity pole: The leaders of the social protest, who have fled from issues of security and foreign policy as if from fire, do not need to include the release of an abducted soldier on their agenda.

"And thy sons shall return to their borders," Gilad's father, Noam, said last night, to the roars of the crowd, but the border of the social protest must be maintained despite the signs reading "Gilad Shalit at home is also social justice." If the borders are to be expanded, then they must also encompass a few other, more courageous, issues.

Justice was once again evident in the price of the bottled mineral water being sold on every corner last night: five shekels, the cheapest price in town.

A film crew for "60 Minutes," the veteran investigative news magazine of the American television network CBS, wandered among the demonstrators. A few weeks ago its legendary reporter, Bob Simon, filmed a segment about the famous Tel Aviv bubble, and now it had to be updated, in the spirit of the times, before its scheduled broadcast. The bubble's walls have grown a little thinner, after all, even if it hasn't burst entirely.

Shortly before the start of last night's demonstration the tent encampment on Rothschild Boulevard was near empty, just as it has been for the past week or so. Rows and rows of tents, but not a living soul but for a handful of actual homeless people, the sort that genuinely don't have anywhere else to go.

This tent city should be taken down - it's done its job. To do so would require a healthy portion of courage and honesty, but that's what the people behind this protest movement are supposed to be known for. One of them, Eldad Yaniv of the "national left," said last night that it's the nature of protest to come in waves, and so even if last night's demonstration was smaller than previous ones it was important to persist: Every Friday after prayers in the Cairo mosques; every Saturday night, after the end of Shabbat, in Tel Aviv.

Last night the protest proved that reports of its death were exaggerated and premature. It's still here, alive and kicking, if with slightly less punch. Too many people came last night as observers, too few of them were angry and excited as in previous weeks. It's still the best show in town, even if last night Shalom Hanoch was in the crowd rather than on the stage, singing and playing guitar. He's tired of singing "Mashiah lo ba," one of the first Israeli social protest songs, from long before the time he sang it with Stav and Daphni. Last night was a dress rehearsal for the next demonstration. All eyes are focused on the "million-person demonstration." Will there truly be one million people there? Watch this space next week.