A Passionless Protest at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square

Saturday night they came to the square to feel even better about themselves; they were at the demonstration, they will tell their friends who were also at the demonstration.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The masses descended on the city square last night, but the spirit just wasn't the same. Perhaps it was the autumn chill that took the place of the heat of summer, perhaps it was the two months that passed since the last demonstration. It's hard to believe it was because of the news from the south of the country, which on Saturday once again proved remote and distant from the big city. But something was very much switched off. You couldn't call it a flop, at least, the dreaded fiasco didn't happen. It was not a resounding failure, and was even a quantitative success: The square was filled with people. It was emptied of protest, however.

The recently renovated Rabin Square dedicated itself with a spirit of gloom Satruday night. The new paving stones, identical to their predecessors, were in no danger: No one stomped on them. Most of the crowd was Ashkenazi, secular and from Tel Aviv, the kind of people whose lives are pretty good. Saturday night they came to the square to feel even better about themselves. They were at the demonstration, they will tell their friends who were also at the demonstration.

Demonstration at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

They were there, they support social justice. The burning wrath and sweeping passion that characterized the demonstrations of the summer, so different from all the traditional rallies the square has seen, were forgotten as if they never existed. Last night's demonstration was nothing like the March of the Million, with its half a million participants, of about two months ago in nearby Kikar Hamedina. Where is the spirit that was evident in all the summer's demonstrations? Electricity was in the air then; last night it was as if someone had switched off the power.

Saturday night's gathering bore a greater - too great - resemblance to the memorial rallies for Yitzhak Rabin, which Tel Avivans go to so they can tell themselves they are for a peace state. Saturday night they came to the square to tell themselves they're for a welfare state. In the meantime, there's neither peace nor welfare. Benjamin Netanyahu and the tycoons can rest undisturbed: The kind of protest that was at the square last night does not give rise to revolutions. At most, this audience, most of whom probably voted for Kadima in the last election, will vote Labor next time. Revolution? Don't exaggerate.

An enthusiastic emcee tried to get a chant going, "The people demand social justice," but as if at a particularly poor singalong the crowd responded with a whimper, even when it came to the issue of free education. He then tried to get them to sing "Increase the budget," to a folk tune, but that too failed to rock the crowd or to rattle the windows surrounding the square. A second-rate Tel Aviv karaoke club on an off-night can do better.

This just doesn't happen at a real protest rally, the emcee begging the crowd to raise their voices, to fake anger, to make up protest. After trying in vain to be a singalong leader the emcee tried to be a Club Med G.O.: "Raise your hands," he entreated the crowd, and the hands went up obediently, but lethargically.

"Keep your hands in the air: Now we'll demand public housing," he called, and the hands remained in the air with the same automatic lethargy, and the faces kept their bored and complacent expressions. Some of the demonstrators carried cups of coffee instead of protest signs, as in previous demonstrations. It was a cocktail party of protest, the end-of-the-summer-of-joy (and anger ) party.

The rally began with the giant banner calling for increasing the national budget drooping, revealing the sign under it welcoming the participants of the Tel Aviv night run. Only at the height of the demonstration did someone climb up to return the banner to its proper place; the square once again demanded a budget hike. The cabinet can sigh in relief: The budget won't be changed any time soon, certainly not on the heels of last night's demonstration.

The soundtrack was also entirely different: Instead of Joan Baez singing protest songs, as in previous demonstrations, we got banal pop, almost elevator music, the peak of which was Joe Cocker's "Summer in the City." O, the summer that was in the city, O the summer that passed and is past. See you at the next "protest" rally, next Saturday night: marking 16 years since Rabin's assassination.



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