A New Dialogue

The housing protesters may lose, simply because there is no political mechanism to make sure that Netanyahu's promises are carried out.

There is a whiff of negotiations in the air, and Benjamin Netanyahu has already made two gains: Through his mouthpiece (mostly Israel Hayom ), he released a list of measures, and rejected the request to cancel the Knesset summer break.

This is a convenient starting position for him, and his representatives could make promises from here to eternity: free daycare, recognizing babysitters for tax purposes, lowering VAT, tax breaks for first-time homeowners, higher net wages for the middle class, lower customs on electronic imports, etc. All this could be funded by doing away with tax breaks for the upper class and corporate tax, raising taxes on luxury apartments and investment apartments, raising taxes on capital gains, higher inheritance taxes and higher corporate tax. What grief for neo-liberal ears to hear this; this means changing priorities and increasing government involvement.

Netanyahu may have rushed to dull the proposals in a fiery speech about the need to increase competition and bolster the private sector, but if his representatives were to commit to even a quarter of this magnificent list, the protesters could happily fold up their tents. Except that under these conditions they may lose, simply because there is no political mechanism to make sure the promises are carried out. It is fair to assume that the leaders of the protest, who have already shown impressive political insight, are aware of this obstacle. It places great responsibility upon them.

Israel's socio-economic dialogue has disappeared since the late 1980s. The legitimate, important debate over economic methods was replaced by an unchallenged belief in limiting the government's economic involvement, across-the-board privatization and lower income taxes, mostly for top earners. No political opposition arose against this method, which created (along with other distortions ) a dangerous concentration of capital in the hands of a few, frightening gaps, and a weakened society and citizenry.

The left was dragged into it just like the right. The entire economic-political elite hummed the same prayer, out of belief but also convenience. After all, what is easier: to defend the have-nots or the haves?

Amid this vacuum arose the tent protest, and suddenly it turns out that the general public actually wants something else, after years of being captivated by the magic of privatization and frightened by the threat that anyone who does not adopt it is a Bolshevik or will "wind up like Greece" (ignoring the fact that the Greek catastrophe was caused by a greedy, corrupt elite ). Tens of thousands of people are shouting "the people demand social justice," demanding equality, education, health and housing, and even - who would have thought it? - a welfare state.

Indeed, the messages are still unclear, but they go beyond the anger at the rich and Netanyahu; they go beyond shaking off the regime of paranoia, racism, fear mongering, and the exhausting rat race, and the sense of being exploited by protected sectors of society. It is an effort to find a new order.

In the absence of a party to transform the protest into a political power and force the government to keep its promises, the leadership of the protest now has double responsibility: to translate these unclear sentiments into clear statements, and to become the watchdog of every gain they now make, through the only means at their disposal: continuing the protest, expanding it with the help of the teachers, the university junior faculty, the dairy farmers and other victims of the system.

But the greatest responsibilities (and achievements ) are linked to a change in awareness. The "Israeli summer" opened a different sort of socio-economic dialogue for the first time. Even if at a certain stage it draws back and pulls up its tents, recent history (the 1973 protest ) and distant history (the Spring of Nations ) prove that every revolutionary dialogue shapes an entire generation. And that is the generation that later, and perhaps even now, will fundamentally change society.