How Long Before Israelis' Anger Boils Over Again?

Once they finished venting and lambasting Finance Minister Yair Lapid over the austerity measures, middle class Israelis poured into the streets for peaceful rallies. In a month, Facebook and cardboard signs may no longer be enough.

Yossi Klein
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Yossi Klein

This time it was a pleasant demonstration. I met friends, and demonstrators smiled at one another, just like at a class reunion. There was no anger there: Facebook put an end to that. On Saturday night, there wasn’t much left after people had been pouring it all out on Facebook all week long. Don’t ask what happened on the network, they told me. We really let him have it. What we wrote about him, what names we called him − that traitor, that traitor who has already forgotten how he stood with us in the square and shouted! Oh, he didn’t stand with us in the square and shout? All right, what’s the difference? So we thought he stood with us and shouted. Has anyone heard him deny it?

You see? Nobody can take away our feeling that he betrayed us. Us? Who is us? “Us” is we, it’s the middle class, which is all the Jewish people. I even saw someone with a skullcap. Nu, where is he? Honestly, he was here a moment ago. Listen, we’re good people, we work, pay taxes and do reserve duty. We didn’t come in violence, God forbid. Look at the nice children with the cardboard signs that their mother drew with a marker − isn’t that sweet?

We’re nice, we work and pay taxes. Have we mentioned that we do reserve duty? You won’t find any politics among us. We won’t dirty our hands with that garbage. Make no mistake, bro, we aren’t Peace Now. Don’t think that we’re here because of the money that goes to the settlements, or to the people with army pensions, or to the wars − they always have something in store for us. You ask who we’re for and who we’re against? It’s very simple. We’re in favor of competition and against centralization ... All right, we’re also against the Israel Electric Corporation.

That’s it, you won’t get anything more out of us, we don’t know where the money should go. As far as we’re concerned, let them wipe out Tehran with it and then with the surplus finish off Damascus. What do we want, after all? Our share of the pie, but we also want him to know: We’re not happy.

You’re not happy, eh?

Yes, we’re not happy, and don’t be ironic with us now. “We’re not happy” sounds like we’re spoiled? Look, we don’t know much, we only know that something isn’t working. What do you want us to do? To submit plans to him which at first he’ll accept and then two years later will cancel? It’s preferable not to; it’s better for him to know that we don’t love him and that’s it. You know how important that is to him, who else other than we is capable of loving him? Certainly not the poor.

I asked them if they themselves are poor and they said: It depends on who you call poor. I said that a poor person is someone who doesn’t have money for rent, for the kid’s nursery school and for the grocery store. We get it, they said. So we aren’t what you call poor. We’re different. We’re dynamic, we’re on the way up while the poor are stuck with Bibi and Likud, Likud and Bibi. And we? We’re making changes, we just elected Lapid, and already we’re looking ahead, over his shoulder, for someone better. They’ll always be stuck in their poverty. They don’t belong here and they won’t “hitch a ride” on us.

At the margins of the demonstration I saw poor people who really didn’t look as though they belonged. They had gray uniforms and shaved heads. Some of them had guns. One of them was leaning on the police van and saying to someone next to him: “Listen, Shlomi. Me? If I had 300,000? I’d leave everything, pick myself up and move to Canada. Don’t look at me like that, Shlomi. How much do you make with overtime? Seven thousand? Eight? Nu, and can you live on that?”

Far from the demonstration, at home − maybe in bed already because they have to get up for work in the morning − were more poor people. Sanitation workers, security guards, cashiers, workers and clerks earning NIS 7,000 a month. Also far from the dais were all those who didn’t demonstrate because they didn’t have money for the bus − not because they couldn’t find parking.

In another month they’ll be here, too, as will the young people who don’t live in Tel Aviv and think that demonstrations are an internal Ashkenazi matter. In another month their salary will not longer suffice for the grocery store and certainly not for the rent. Now they’re afraid of poverty. They want to be called “lower middle class” and not “poor.” They think that poor students are found only in Dostoyevsky; they’re afraid that poverty is contagious, that it won’t disappear when they grow up. In another month they will no longer be standing with small cardboard signs; they’ll go straight to breaking the glass wall on the stage.

And Lapid? He’s like Mordoch from “Yalkut Hakzavim” [“The Book of Fibs,” short stories by the late Haim Hefer]. At first we told him that he has no character. We said that he doesn’t have the character to smother us with taxes. I have no character? he said − and immediately smothered us with taxes. We were suffocated.

Hey, Lapid, we said to him. What a tough character you have. Ease up a little. A tough character, he panicked, and did let go a bit. Hey, Lapid, we said to him. You’ve got no character at all. You’d do whatever anyone tells you to do. 

Protesters in Haifa, May 2013.Credit: Rami Shlush