The Promise of the Tent Protests

After generations of apathetic and submissive Israelis that blindly put their fates in the hands of politicians, perhaps the young people of Rothschild, who are a little bit spoiled, will teach them that they were mistaken.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

It is very easy to criticize the protest of the tent-dwellers. It lacks some of the basic conditions for a deep, serious and effective popular protest. It does not have sufficient rage or solidarity, and it does have too many enjoyable and trendy expressions. Its issues are not the oppressed of the nation and it shuts its eyes to those who are weaker. It is wary of anything that is controversial, its objectives are hazy and its life expectancy could be short. It is the Boombamela festival on the boulevard.

But nevertheless, we must keep our eyes pinned intently on what is happening in the tents. Perhaps the word of God will come forth from there. Perhaps it is expressly from these tents that the next big thing in Israeli politics will emerge. In order for these tents to turn into the tents of Torah, only one thing needs to happen - that the tent-dwellers, and many other Israelis among you, will finally understand that you have a great deal of power in your hands.

After generations of apathetic and submissive Israelis, who blindly put their fates in the hands of a handful of politicians, some of them cynical and irresponsible; after decades in which Israelis were driven to construction and destruction, to war and peace, to prosperity and poverty - years during which most of them were convinced that they did not have the power to bring about change - perhaps the young people of Rothschild, who are a little bit spoiled, will teach them that they were mistaken. This boulevard may yet turn into the real backbone of the nation. After decades when there were only two active sectors in Israeli society - the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox, two minority groups with tremendous power and influence, the only ones who fought for their interests - perhaps now the Israelis of the middle of the road will be convinced that it is forbidden for them to continue to curl up in apathy, constantly complaining but doing nothing.

Perhaps they will understand they must no longer abandon the arena to a handful of politicians and to the only two powerful groups in society. Take note of who is standing at the head of the camp that mocks and ridicules the tent-dwellers - the spokesmen for the right and the settlers. Someone has moved their cheese. Someone has eaten of what is theirs and drunk from what is theirs. Someone else is suddenly threatening to gain control of the public arena which, until now, has been their private estate.

They have seen also how the prime minister and his ministers are under pressure because of this mass picnic. They too understand that if it is successful, life for them will also no longer be a picnic. The focus of power will move from their hands to other hands that are much more responsible and caring than theirs. That is precisely the reason why it is so good that Rothschild Boulevard chased away Knesset member Miri Regev and others like her in disgrace. The last thing this protest needs is to give away the power that has been given it for so short a while, to those who are cynical and populist.

The aims are not important now - to eat cottage cheese or to rent a cottage. It is precisely the means that now justify the end, and not the opposite. The most penetrating question currently facing the young tent-dwellers is whether they will be able to bequeath a new political language to Israel, the language of a civic society that speaks out and is ready to fight for this. We must hold thumbs for them now, and pray from morning to night that their spirits will not drop and their tent city will not be dismantled.

The declared aim of their struggle is a great deal smaller and marginal than the real issue: Perhaps they have been granted the opportunity - the most fateful of all - to prove that it is possible to do things differently. Success will bring success in its wake while failure will lead to failure.

If this unclear struggle by the renters of apartments on Shenkin Street is successful, matching the struggle against the price of cottage cheese, then additional Israelis will see that it is worthwhile, and that there is a chance and there is hope. Perhaps then they will go out and fight for matters that affect our fates to a much greater extent. If they see they have the strength to reduce the price of one-room apartments of 30 square meters, perhaps they will understand that they also have the power to change the nature of the country - 22,000 square kilometers not including the occupied territories.

If the struggle succeeds against the tyranny of the apartment owners and the Finance Ministry - which was what motivated them to go out and demonstrate - perhaps they will find the way of struggling also against other more severe forms of tyranny. That is the big test before the people.

A political pilot project whose importance cannot be underestimated is taking place now on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, and in other tent cities throughout the country. It is up to the Israelis to blow an empathetic, encouraging and impassioned wind into their sails. We must now leave apathy and cynicism behind at home and go out to the tents.



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