Those Israeli Social Protesters Who Couldn't Be Bother to Vote

A new novel shows that our lives are determined by forces of which we are unaware.

Two days after the municipal elections, a good friend of mine named Leon Alkalai posted some pointed and precise comments on Facebook, in which he recommended to the re-elected mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa that instead of basking in his victory he should ask himself why so many people refrained from turning out and voting for him. “If I, honorable Mayor, had been elected to head this amazing city, I would ask myself why 250,000 eligible voters didn’t bother to show up and tell me what they think,” wrote Leon.

I wasn’t here when the elections were held in the city I live in, and if I had been, I would not have added to the number of votes for Huldai. Regardless of his performance, about which I have some reservations, I believe that the position of mayor needs refreshing every few years. While I was away, I read a book by Nir Baram called “Tzel Olam” ‏(“The World is a Rumor,” published by Am Oved‏). It is one of the only good things to emerge from the social protest that took place two summers ago.

That protest, initiated by a courageous and ideological young woman named Daphni Leef − who had lofty intentions and no political aspirations − led to several negative outcomes. The lesser of these was the propulsion of Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli into the Knesset, achieved by a cynical manipulation of public sentiment, landing them high-paying jobs in the legislature. One can at least say that so far they have not caused any damage ‏(although they haven’t helped anyone either‏). However, they did damage the original goals of the protest, on which they rode for their personal gain.

A worse result, amazingly cynical, is the rise of Yair Lapid, who as finance minister is doing everything the protest was directed against. The almost total apathy of Tel Aviv residents toward the municipal elections − the same residents who came to all the demonstrations in that last summer of hope − is the worst result of the protest, since it symbolizes the despair and loss of faith in the ability to change anything in the city, or even in the state one lives in.

Many books have come out in Israel since that summer of tents, but the protest has been largely ignored in most of them. That is why Baram’s book stands out and is particularly important. Baram, who must have carried out extensive research, carefully addresses issues such as market forces, capitalism, globalization, individualism, cooperation and social justice − issues that many of us talk about but don’t really understand.

There are three different voices in the book in three completely different styles. There is the voice of the individual, Gavriel Mansour, the tragic hero of the book. Mansour’s voice is heard through the narrator in beautiful Hebrew with a wonderful power of description. The other voices are delivered directly, without the narrator’s mediation. There is the voice of the American campaigners, whose polished, witty and purposeful style is expressed in their email exchanges. The voice of the protesters, who are trying to organize a worldwide strike with one billion participants, is also heard directly. The Hebrew sounds like a translation from Cockney English ‏(most of the protesters are in London‏).

What particularly impressed me was the fact that after the first chapters, which are set in Jerusalem, one can easily forget that this is an Israeli novel. In fact, it is a “global” novel, as are the topics it covers, which could have been written anywhere. It is a world-embracing novel that leaves its readers confused, since there is no clear distinction between good and evil characters. Everyone in the book is both good and bad, including criminals and victims, and the good intentions of most of them lead them, and us, to hell. One of the book’s conclusions is that we are all captives of the capitalist world with its a priori injustice and that our lives are determined by forces we are unaware of. The individual’s capacity to choose is miniscule, as is the chance that an individual with a good cause − or even hundreds of thousands of individuals − can change the world.

I imagine that most of the 68 percent of Tel Aviv residents who didn’t vote did not read Baram’s book ‏(like those who made nasty comments on a story about him in Haaretz, saying that his achievements stem from his family background, or that his book is yet another leftist creation‏). But the abstainers acted in accordance with the sad conclusion arising from the book, a result of the failure of the huge efforts to change things here. Some of them did not vote because they are satisfied with Huldai, some for the opposite reason, but all of them have lost the wish or the hope of changing anything. Except the price of coffee, of course.