Stay on Israel's Streets Until You're a Million-strong

Don't expect change to come to you; you are the change.

Greetings, friends in the tent camp. Greetings to the hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets on Saturday night a week ago and greetings to the hundreds of thousands of supporters on Facebook. Have you already prepared your list of demands?

Many people, representatives of "the connected," people afraid of change in the social and economic order, are urging you to put together a precise list of demands. Ofer Eini, chairman of the umbrella union Histadrut, for example, has explained to you how things are done. You make a list. You come organized. That's how it works.

protest - David Bachar - August 17 2011
David Bachar

It does work for him.

But don't agree. Don't listen. Not to Eini and not to the rest of the people who are afraid you will change the rules of the game on them.

Leave those lists to the labor representatives at the monopolies, to the pressure groups in the public sector and to the lobbyists and wheeler-dealers working for the tycoons. Leave the list-making to these people who have taken control of most of the public's financial assets and have built pyramids of cartels, monopolies and finances.

They know how to put together lists of simple and focused demands, which also get them results.

What you want is bigger than anything that can be put on a shopping list: You want a different future for yourselves and especially for your children.

You don't want a 3% cost of living adjustment, a discount on the bus and a dip in the price of cottage cheese. You want to know that this country is changing direction and is gradually becoming less of a violent, swinish and ugly place, where only interest groups get protection and only they benefit from the system.

You want to know that in this country there will be more opportunities for you and for your children.

You want to know that this country will undergo an administrative, cultural and values revolution.

You want the people who are leading this country to think about the issues that are important to you in the long term.

You are the weakest link, but don't have to be

The idea of the list of demands is total rubbish. Not only because it is impossible to put together a real list of this sort and not only because no one is going to give you the items on it, but rather mainly because everything that you will ostensibly "get" - will evaporate, reset to its previous state and disappear.

Even what seems promising will be taken from you in the next wave of budget cuts when the economy slows again, as is inevitable, given the cyclical nature of economics.

You cannot make a "list of demands" because without a profound and long-term structural change in the economy - every shekel that comes out of the state budget will be charged to you somewhere else the next day or in a few years.

You are the state's tax base, you are its workforce and you are also the weak link. Therefore, any list of demands based on rabbits out of a hat, slogans and caprices, if it is implemented, will be rolled back to your doorstep or your children's.

You have not taken to the streets in order to put together a list of demands, to lower value added tax or to get a tax break for hiring a nanny. You have taken to the streets because you have understood that you are being kept out of the economic discussion in Israel and there is a big chance that if the economy continues to go the way it has been going - you will be screwed.

You have taken to the streets because you have understood that only you can bring about change.

You have taken to the streets because you have realized that slogans like "I am not interested in politics and economics because in any case they are all corrupt and therefore I watch 'A Star is Born' and sports on television" - is exactly the behavior because of which you don't count at all for the decision-makers. Why should you count for them if you don't count for yourselves?

Now that you have taken to the streets - you have to stay there, if not in the practical sense then conceptually.

You have to keep this fire burning all the time and to ensure that it burns ever more brightly. The quarter of a million people who took to the streets on Saturday night a week and a half ago are a fine number but they do not yet reflect the number of the unconnected in Israel, the uncounted number of people who have been screwed and will be screwed because they are not part of a group for whom someone is looking out.

A million unconnected people

A million unconnected people - people who have no real representation today in Israel. Who are the unconnected? They are all the people who are not among the connected - connected, that is, to the government or private teat for their pay conditions, their pension and their benefits that go far beyond what is usual in this economy.

The connected people do not have the sword of dismissal dangling over their heads. They are part of a strong group that is getting special treatment from the decision-makers.

They are not necessarily wealthy. A great many of them belong to that middle class everyone is talking about now. But they, unlike you, are not really threatened by the forces of the free market.

Even if you are well connected, well padded and well buttered from every direction - do not make the mistake of thinking this protest is irrelevant to you. When the number of people who remain outside the banquet is growing ever year - in the end they will bust up the banquet. Your banquet.

Hundreds of thousands of people have understood or felt that the current system is screwing them and therefore they have taken to the streets.

But we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg: The way the economy is going ensures that in another five, 10 or 20 years the number of these people will increase significantly.

Many of those who today feel they are the beneficiaries of the system will, as they get older, discover its ugly sides. You have to stay in the streets, conceptually, because only a million unconnected, well informed, alert and aware people can bring change to Israel.

Do not expect "a leader," a "government," a "change in the system of government" or any other political bang to bring you salvation. This is because as long as the lineup of incentives, values and public discourse has not changed - every politician and every decision-maker who settles into Jerusalem will continue to behave more or less like his predecessors. Ultimately it is you who determine this system of incentives. The change is you. Not Bibi, not Steinitz. Not Tzipi and not Shaul. And not Yair, Aryeh, Shelly or Avigdor either.

You have to stay in the street because the political, economic and public system isn't seeing you right under its nose. This is not anything personal, really not: you simply don't exist because ahead of you there is a long, strong line of sophisticated, united and skilled interest groups engaged in advancing their own affairs.

And they, unlike you, keep close tabs on every action by the government and the strong business elements in order to make sure they are not harmed by it.

You have to remain in the street because the people who control the public discourse in Israel - including most of the media - do not want any real change in the public discourse. They are, after all, controlled by the people who have become strong and successful under the very system that has brought us to where we are today. You have to create an alternative public discourse, which does not go through their newspapers and channels.

You have to stay in the street because this country belongs to you.

Psst. News flash: That money is yours

The hundreds of billions controlled by the tycoons belong to you and their monopolies and cartels exist only with your help. These are your taxes, your pensions and your labor that are financing this bunch. It used to be that they understood this and therefore they had a certain scale of values, norms, red lines and restraint. In recent years they have seen that you don't care so they began to cross all the lines and to treat you like vassals on a feudal estate.

All the forces and elements that want to preserve the system are trying and will keep trying to ride this protest. Some of them will try to ride it in order to kill it, some will ride it in order to divert it in their direction and some will try to inject their own ideologies into it.

You have to weed out from among yourselves all the ideologues and politicians. Both those who are shouting the praise of capitalism and those who are shouting socialism. Tell them thank you very much but you have already tasted this merchandise, you have already received it and you have understood that it is not leading you anywhere. You want professional and real discussion of the question of how to raise the standard of living and the quality of life here. You want to know how you will get better public systems, lower prices and greater social solidarity.

Don't let anyone confuse you with slogans about capitalism and its wonders or social democracy. Most of the people who talk about capitalism haven't the foggiest idea about what it really is.

Most of the people who are now shouting social democracy don't understand, and don't want to understand, really, how the economies are managed in countries that are ostensibly social democratic.

Don't let anyone confuse you with increases and cuts in taxes and budgets. Taxes and budgets are not an end but rather a means. The question is what is done with the money. Increasing budgets does not necessarily improve anything and cutting budgets does not necessarily do harm. What counts is where the resources go and how they are managed.

The questions are complex and so are the answers, but they are important enough for most of the public discourse of the entire state of Israel to focus on them.

The powers that be are now frightening you with the crisis on Wall Street and in Europe and they are telling you how important it is to maintain budgetary discipline. All this is fine and dandy and always true but it isn't working on you any more. This is because the people who have taken to the streets aren't demanding that the government pour out scads of money, increase deficits and go bankrupt.

They want the resources to be managed differently in order to spur better productivity and a more logical distribution.

The powers that be will explain to you that there are worse places in the world. In Italy the government-wealth corruption is worse; Wall Street controls Washington; Spain is stricken with terrible unemployment and China has issues with basic rights. Ignore these international comparisons. Here it can be a lot better and this is the only thing we must keep in view.

The powers that be will explain to you that we are growing, that we have low unemployment, that the high-tech industry is wonderful and that no bank in Israel has gone bankrupt.

Terrific. Does this mean that in 10 or 20 years from now you and your children will be able to have good health and education services and that you will be able to fulfill your potential in the labor market?

Of course not. Will high tech be the motor of the economy in the next decade as well? We can't be certain. Are our banks strong because they excel at risk management or because they are a cartel? Do we have in parallel to our low unemployment income gaps among the highest in the world, which have consistently been getting wider decade by decade?

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the street during this past month to protest the direction the Israeli economy, Israeli society and Israeli democracy are taking. Some of these people are angry about housing prices, some about cottage cheese, some about health care and many of them about education, the infrastructures and the takeover of financial and real asset pyramids by a handful of families. Most of them are not economists or experts on taxation, competitiveness and the effectiveness of the public sector - but it seems that Israel's economic and social future is dependent today, now more than ever, on their willingness to put these things at the center of the public discourse in Israel.