As Protest Falters, the Elites Jump Ship

The protest against the war in Lebanon is faltering. Its dimensions certainly do not reflect the anger and terror engendered by the conduct of the government and the functioning of the army. Behind the paltry dimensions is an equation: Just as the war expressed the character of the leadership, the protest expresses the character of the society. In general it can be said that social protest springs from the periphery - geographical and social - while political protest comes from the center and the elite.

Sweeping political protest in Israel rises from a sense of one's power and social legitimacy. It cannot come from among Russian or Ethiopian immigrants, from poor, inner-city Mizrahim, from settlers or kibbutzniks. They produced the majority of the fatalities, they comprise most of the combat soldiers, they are the main victims of the miseries of the home front. They can comprise the backbone of the fighting force, but they cannot become the backbone of political protest. The group that holds the hegemony does not delegate the authority to them.

Moreover, experience does not encourage long-running protest. Instead of the leadership learning the limitations of its power, it was society that learned the limits of its power. It learned from the experience of the protests of Vicki Knafo, of the handicapped, the cancer patients, the homeless. The government showed great deterrent power against all these groups, crushing belief in the possibility for change. That is one of the main differences between the present limited protest and the stormy one of 1973, and even the one that continued all through the first Lebanon war, that gave birth to at least 10 different protest movements.

That was an age of innocence; before solidarity was smashed, before society was privatized and educated according to the main value our leaders have inculcated in recent years of "my own come first."

The reserve soldiers - students, young fathers, small business owners or those just starting out professionally, returned from traumatic fighting to take care of their own. But they found a great responsibility on their doorstep: We want them to be the fighters who protect us, refuseniks who salve our conscience, protesters who effect change for us. Instead of asking the government where the commission of inquiry is, it seems that for the elite, it is more important to butt heads with the few protesters there are over where the protest is.

Moreover, throughout Israel's political history, unity governments have silenced protest. One can only imagine how the protest would look if, say, Benjamin Netanyahu had been defense minister. But a minister of defense who comes from the left is protected outwardly like a rare flower, criticized to the hilt behind closed doors, while publicly excoriating the right-wing protest.