New Version of Israeli Social Unrest Means Letting Go of Protests Past

Last summer's tent protests cast a long shadow over Saturday night's social justice rallies, but the thousands in the streets proved that the movement is still relevant.

Or Kashti
Or Kashti
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Or Kashti
Or Kashti

One can ridicule and eulogize the new incarnation of the social justice protest movement. One can claim that it's too political or not political enough, that it's unfocused and divided, that it's effete, that nothing can recreate the events of last summer. But that would be a mistake.

The thousands that marched on Saturday night along the familiar route up the streets of Tel Aviv proved that the protest movement is still relevant. "We're taking the protest back to the streets," shouted the marchers, banging on pots and pans.

It began inauspiciously. At eight in the evening, an hour before the demonstration was to set out from Habima Square, the number of people in attendance was shockingly low. The older demonstrators, veterans of the rallies against the Lebanon War and the occupation, shared a bit of gallows humor.

But when the march began - and the drums started beating and the masses poured out from the side streets - you could almost hear the sigh of relief from the organizers. Theirs fears of not living up to this latest test of their power evaporated.

The renewed protest movement cannot be judged solely on the basis of last summer. Those demonstrations transformed Israel's public discourse and left their mark on its economy and politics. They were a unique moment, especially considering the unimpressive history of social struggle in Israel.

And anyway, when was the last time a demonstration against the occupation managed to bring thousands out into the street? When was the last time there was a mass demonstration that addressed inequality, a redistribution of the economic and social resources and a welfare state?

Last summer's events were on the minds of those who marched in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa on Saturday night. Some of them sought to recreate their success, to relive that elusive moment when it seemed possible to bring about a new, more just social reality.

Some of the protest's organizers also realize, even if intuitively, the need to get out from underneath the long shadow of last summer's events.

Until a few weeks ago, Israel still ostensibly had an opposition party called Kadima. Today, the political reality is completely different, and serves as a reminder of the basic guiding principle of any worthy social protest: not to deal in short-term score settling. If the struggle is just and principled, it will remain so even without Shaul Mofaz and Ehud Barak.

Read this article in Hebrew

Social justice protesters at Saturday night's demonstration in Tel Aviv, June 2, 2012.Credit: David Bachar

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