Mind the Generation Gap

When Shmuli formulates 'demands,' he is not bargaining with employers. He is writing the platform of the party that will be created.

This heartwarming photograph by Tomer Appelbaum, taken on August 9, depicts a demonstrator on Rothschild Boulevard who in his spare time is reading Jon Lee Anderson's biography of Che Guevara. He has at least two Israeli flags with him in the tent, as he shakes hands with a well-dressed man. But this photograph actually depicts something else: it depicts a leader.

It depicts the way in which Itzik Shmuli, chairman of the National Students Union, whose quiet charisma has in recent weeks become an integral and essential element of the leadership that is being created before our eyes, receives Labor MK Daniel Ben Simon. Even though Shmuli does not get up, the photograph possesses balance, and even though he sits on a mat and Ben Simon stands above him, there is a sense of mutuality.

Tomer Appelbaum

Ben Simon, whose rolled-up sleeves are perhaps the only indication that this is August, and whose shiny black shoes are so different from the oversize, totally student-type basketball shoes worn by Shmuli, leans toward him, bends over, enclosing Shmuli's extended palm in two hands in a warm greeting. Ben Simon, whose blue shirt matches the blue-gray of the tents and flags, steps slightly onto the tent floor and the tension in his shank muscle is obvious. He is not "honoring Shmuli by his presence," not "strengthening his hand" and not "identifying with his pain." He is greeting a colleague. A future colleague.

In the few years since former journalist Ben Simon entered politics, he has already experienced the brutal hand of the chairman of the devastated party he joined. Shmuli, in contrast, has had no such experience. In his years in the Student Union he unified the national representative bodies; conducted negotiations with the Finance Ministry; arranged the very important control of ISSTA, the student travel association; and now, in the summer of 2011, step by step, he is taking part in the creation of a new leadership, even if he himself is the most establishment person in the group, the most practical. When Shmuli formulates "demands," he is not bargaining with employers. He is writing the platform of the party that will be created. The party that must be created to replace the failed Labor Party. Because, while the Knesset is busy abridging the concept of citizenship and voiding it of substance, this protest aims to expand it. Now, with the launching of the governmental counter-offensive that will make September the cruelest month, he has to make decisions. Even if there is no one in Jerusalem to vote no-confidence, there are those who can establish a party in a tent.

The photograph does not relate all of this. Nor does it reflect the thoughts of the affable MK Ben Simon. This photograph illuminates for a moment Shmuli's character, as he sits on the mat in shorts, next to plastic bags, having a break between meetings and managing the affairs of the struggle. In contrast to many of the photographs taken of him, in which his thin-lipped face is serious and restrained, here he is caught in an uncontrolled instant. Thus the punctum of the photograph is his fourth finger and his forearm, which are twisted and crossed. For some reason, Shmuli is unabashedly thrilled to meet Ben Simon. He isn't jaded yet.