Why There's No Revolution in Israel

For 40 years now, Israeli governments have worsened our situation through the continued occupation, the recurrent wars, and - in more recent years - eroding democratic rights and personal freedoms, and growing government corruption.

Merav Michaeli
Merav Michaeli
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Merav Michaeli
Merav Michaeli

The hot question of the day: What will bring people here out into the streets? There has been a great deal of hand-wringing over Israelis' failure to take to the streets, lamentations of our non-revolution.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, surrounded by ministers at Sunday’s cabinet meeting at Kibbutz Degania.Credit: Dror Artzi

Some say: Why should people here take to the streets? We have democracy, don't we? Free press, free consumption, a flourishing free market. People aren't going hungry, Facebook and Twitter are open to everyone. Plus, the poor here are dressed better than the poor in Egypt. Anyway, the poor in Israel are ultra-Orthodox and Arab - and for them it's a traditional thing, so they don't count.

But the truth is that it is difficult to expect the Israeli public to take to the streets, because in fact it has too many things to protest. For 40 years now, Israeli governments have worsened our situation through the continued occupation, the recurrent wars, depriving workers' rights, diminishing health and welfare services, increasing and aggravating societal gaps of all kinds, and - in more recent years - eroding democratic rights and personal freedoms, and growing government corruption.

There are complaints that while throngs of French demonstrators took to the streets in France to protest raising the retirement age, Israelis let the same issue just pass by. But who in Israel, between another privatization and the citizenship law, can even pay attention to such an infringement?

And yet, people do take to the streets quite often. There are demonstrations against the occupation; marches to bring home Gilad Shalit; the blocking of parking lots on the Sabbath; huge events to protest the disengagement from Gaza and to advocate the rights of Holocaust survivors; demonstrations to mark Land Day, fight racism, that are pro-democracy and against deporting children; and protests against infiltrators, Arabs and foreigners. We even had our own square - the Bread Square. But all of it is in vain.

When Palestinians demonstrate, they send the troops to fight them, as if combating an enemy action. When Israeli Arabs demonstrate, they are suppressed as if they threaten to take down the government. Sephardic Jewish protesters are watched very closely by police forces, while the "regular" social activists are treated with words of support or disregard. One thing is for sure: Israeli governments never accept anything the demonstrators demand.

Citizens and numerous organizations try to arouse public opinion and influence policy makers through advertising and lobbying, and various events and provocations. These methods usually fail, too. They may stir public opinion and get some media attention, but they don't cause Israeli governments to change their policy.

Social organizations for change have a built-in limitation: They act from the outside, and as such cannot make the changes. In their very existence they function as valves to blow off steam and, most importantly, they also receive funding from the government and wealthy individuals - whose aims and activities contradict the political and social goals of the organizations. So indirectly, the organizations are actually part of the very system that strengthens the wealthy and powerful.

Israel's politics and politicians are disconnected more than ever before from the public, its needs and desires. Even the sectorial politicians hardly tend to the needs of their constituents. Giving stipends to yeshiva students who neither serve in the army nor work is not in the interest of either the yeshiva students or ultra-Orthodox society. Depriving leftists and Arabs of their rights does not improve the condition of immigrants from Russia. Expressions of nationalism do nothing to advance Arab society, and occupation and settlement are bad for the State of Israel and the public at large.

Israel's politicians fail to recognize the public's exhaustion and collective depression, its desire for peace, quiet and equality, and don't understand that this is the real danger to our existence, security and character. That is because this exhaustion and desire for quiet have led to the yearning for a "strong leader."

The truth is that we're all yearning for a revolution. We watch with frustration all of those other people who have succeeded in making a change - not just tried, but succeeded - and we want the same. We, too, want to shape our lives, we also want something exciting and positive to happen to us, something awesome and inspiring - and most of all something that gives hope. Boy, do we need hope.

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