The Dilemma That Sparked the Protest

Over the past year, when it finally became clear that the protest was over and it would take years for the change demanded by those young people to come, more and more of them are choosing to leave.

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It began with us. It’s hard to remember the day, after two years of demonstrations, dozens of spin-off protests, millions of words, hundreds of arrests and one Yair Lapid. But Israel’s protest movement began, first of all, as a protest by desperate young people. On the face of it, they were protesting against things that bothered young people in Tel Aviv – high rents, for example – but in fact they were, and still are, trying to find an answer to a very simple question: “Should we stay and fight for Israel’s future, or should we give up and leave?”

That, more or less, was the dilemma that everyone on Rothschild Boulevard on July 14, 2011 was dealing with. They were mostly 20-somethings, living from loan to loan, anxiously checking their bank balances almost daily, especially before the rent was due. They had always been taught that hard work pays off and other such clichés, which did not pass the test of reality. What’s more, as opposed to what their parents were telling them, friends were reporting that overseas things are, in fact, easier.

Everybody was thinking about getting out of here. Some wanted to study abroad, some just dreamed about moving to Berlin and living like artists. Some were checking employment opportunities in international companies – some had even bought plane tickets. And some who bought tickets canceled them that summer. The protest, that awakening that seemed for a moment like a revolution, convinced them to stay and fight. Since them, some have purchased another ticket and boarded a plane to try their luck elsewhere.

There is a feeling that only young people in Israel – those who were born into the first intifada and the Gulf War, who grew up into Rabin’s assassination and the second intifada, who never had the opportunity to experience the national euphoria of the generations that preceded them – can understand today. It is a combination of premature economic worries, a sense of failure and that the future – if there is one – is to be found elsewhere. To be a young person in Israel today is first of all to be defenseless. Just you and the gap between your mounting debts and your aspirations for the future. You live with the tension between the feeling that you can’t make it in Israel and the knowledge that, unlike your parents and your grandparents, you have somewhere else you can go.

Over the past year, when it finally became clear that the protest was over and it would take years for the change demanded by those young people to come, more and more of them are choosing to leave. In the post-national world, talented young people don’t necessarily have to fight for their future in their own countries. They can live anywhere, as long as they can work. Israel can no longer rely on the fear of anti-Semitism to keep them here. And when the more talented leave, the less talented will also start looking elsewhere, and finally, many of them will find places to take them in. In the end, if this trend persists, Israel might still have Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, which means “there is a future,” but it will have no actual future at all.

Israeli activists protest for social justice. July 6, 2012.Credit: Nir Keidar

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