Saturday morning, an activist at the Rothschild Boulevard tent city said she thought the rally that night would succeed. "It looks like 7,000 people are going to be there," she said. Her friends hoped she was right. That evening, even while engaged in stormy debate over who would speak and about what, they rubbed their eyes in disbelief.
Tens of thousands of people flooded Tel Aviv, and they were carrying placards: "The people want social justice". And: "Justice and not charity" - and even, incredibly: "Welfare state."
The current protest - the most interesting since Israel's Black Panthers - is unique in its motives and its human, political and class make-up. The protest is moving far beyond the core that created it. One feels the image Amos Oz used to explain the enormous resonance of his book "A Tale of Love and Darkness": This protest also began from a few people who dug in their own backyard and touched an underground electric cable that suddenly lit up the whole neighborhood.
The prime minister canceled his trip to Poland. He said again that the finance minister has not been fired and urges all the ministers to "get under the stretcher." The cable, though dormant, was exposed as being connected to every home. Suddenly, it's alive with a powerful current, and neigh forbidden words (against privatization and for a welfare state ) are heard. That language, say inciters with an agenda, is linked to "the radical dangerous left." The cable has suddenly linked together those hidden and left to their own devices and despair: social workers, doctors, teachers, parents, students and human resource company workers.
The magnitude of this protest, which has yet to reach its climax, expresses the powerful current too long buried underground. It carries anger, despair, a sense of injustice and especially fear of the future - for years politics have allowed the state to completely divest itself of its obligations to its citizens and has abandoned them to an intolerable struggle for survival. But the very magnitude of this spontaneous protest could prove to be its downfall.
Benjamin Netanyahu is indeed the knight of neo-liberalism, but the responsibility for the failure of government in Israel is not only his. The fatal combination of maintaining the occupation and security and huge investments in the settlements and the ultra-Orthodox, along with the desiccation of the public sector and the weakening of regulatory oversight, began long before he first came to office and persisted while he was out of office.
Back in 1996, Netanyahu saw precisely what the major obstacles to development were. The problem was his solutions, which always involved privatization, and instead of competition, led to dangerous economic concentration, payment of political bribery to sectoral partners and a no-less-dangerous weakening of education, public medicine and welfare. But the more serious problem is the quick-fix solutions he is pulling out now.
Netanyahu did not invent this method either. However, he has upgraded it brilliantly. Knowing that transforming unwieldy systems (the Israel Lands Administration and the planning and building commissions are just two examples ) would take courage, decisiveness and investment, and a superior and public-minded team of ministers (not when Shas holds the housing and interior portfolios ), he prefers to initiate hasty legislation and enact speedy regulations that might do more harm than good.
As someone who knows very will how to figure out what the problems are, Netanyahu's quick-fixes are meant to quiet the protests. That is why he is now utilizing Moshe Kahlon. Not so much the man, as the symbol. Kahlon connected to a large and furious group of Likud voters, whom Netanyahu is afraid to lose. He will embrace the protesters, allow them to chalk up achievements and prove they are changing the system. This embrace may cause the protest to dissipate and be buried. Because Kahlon believes the state should be more involved in the economy, and because Netanyahu needs "Kahlonism" like the air he breathes, the change the protest is seeking might come from that direction. Not exactly the socialism that some of the tent dwellers want, but perhaps a welcome beginning of the deconstruction of the problematic division between right and left in Israel, and the creation of a new, civil, political platform demanding an attainable future.
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