The Revolution and the Ostrich

This movement can't be turned into a political party, or a camp with a clear-cut political and ideological character, without losing most of its participants and all of its public influence.

"These are historic days. The revolution is taking place below and above the surface." This is the opening to the revolutionary manifesto hanging next to one of the tents in Rothschild Boulevard. The writer, a 26-year-old student, continues: "The revolution will not take shape with the help of political moves, and evidence of this is that many revolutions and revolutionaries had good intentions but reality turned out differently. The real revolution will start inside every one of us. Social justice is us. Therefore..." At this point I was on the alert. What alternative was he proposing to political action? Anarcho-syndicalism? Individual terror? Direct action? "Therefore I promise, from this day on," it continued, "to say shalom to the bus driver and good morning to the cashier. To come to the assistance of someone who is stranded at the side of the road and not to accelerate. The next time there is some shady business plan, to think who is going to get screwed by it. Not to smuggle something past customs but to pay all the duties. Not to feed the ostrich at the safari, even though that's great fun. To abide by the law but also to uphold the right that is a duty - to think and to express an opinion. I promise, at least, to try."

One must admit there is something truly revolutionary about an Israeli undertaking not to smuggle something past customs and to pay all his taxes, to say nothing about abstaining from feeding the ostrich at the safari park - a sacrifice that the young man finds difficult in so touching a way. Many people will no doubt raise their noses at this naive text. Is this the stuff that revolutions are made of? Are these the revolutionaries? But this is the Israeli revolution of 2011, and this is its authentic voice.

Anyone who thinks that one can take this student (who, with all his naivety, actually knows a few things about the history of revolutions ) and most of his colleagues in a radical direction in the usual salon-revolutionary fashion, is himself a kind of ostrich. This movement can't be turned into a political party, or a camp with a clear-cut political and ideological character, without losing most of its participants and all of its public influence.

What will come out of the protest movement? Quite a bit. First, this is a beautiful and impressive display of active and influential civic involvement, after many years in which it seemed that this phenomenon had disappeared from the Israeli - or at least secular Israeli - scene. That in itself is a change for the better. Second, it is clear that this protest will lead to change in the sphere of economic and social policy. Beyond the great ideological arguments, there is no doubt that the pendulum in this respect went too far right. Now a correction will follow.

Will the protest ensure a comprehensive decision in favor of a social-democratic socioeconomic policy? It provides a comfortable backdrop for the growth of a political alternative in this vein. However, the decision itself about a basic change of policy on questions of society and economics can be made only in the polling booth, through those same "political steps" that the student on Rothschild Boulevard is so disdainful of - that is to say, through a political party that will win the confidence of the public.

The Labor Party, under new leadership, is a natural candidate to carry a banner of this kind, but of course there are also other options and combinations of options. The bottom line is that this is a matter for a party or parties. It is clear that the voting public will not vote on the socioeconomic issue alone, but its importance will no doubt increase. And on this issue itself, some hard questions have to be faced: What, in fact, does modern social-democracy mean, and how does one combine a modern social state with a modern economy?

In any case, the decision will take place in the polling booth. That is the way decisions are made in a country where the people do not storm the government buildings but rather decide, in free elections, who will sit in them.