Israel's Social Protest Faces Its Ultimate Test

In two days we'll know: If the protest wasn't a protest, the revolution wasn't a revolution. If they stay home, we'll know they aren't deserving of change, any change; they don't deserve a revolution, any revolution.

This Saturday evening, Israelis may choose to spend yet another quiet autumn night in their homes. The television news will report on a demonstration taking place at exactly that time in the city centers. A company that estimates crowds will report on the minuscule number of demonstrators, and news presenters will dismiss them with a shake of their heads: this is not the million-strong showing we are familiar with, not even a half-million.

Protest is dead.

Afterwards Israelis will turn to the wonders of television. I'll remind you, as a public service, of the Saturday night television line-up: "Three" ("three women share a journey in search of love" ), "The Wedding Game" ("a bride and groom set out on a humorous, moving, dramatic and wild treasure hunt" ), and a repeat broadcast of "The Roy Bar Natan Show." And the protest show? It's no longer interesting. The magic is gone as well as the spirit.

The rain shower yesterday was short but it was the kind that rinses everything clean. The days are graying. This is the kind of autumn that's cloudy (and accompanied by a moaning wind ).

And summer? Completely forgotten. We've forgotten that there was a protest here, forgotten the moment when hope broke through. The joy of the lost son returned to the bosom of his family, along with holiday melancholy, the skies that turned gloomy and the beginning of the new year - this was enough to rinse everything away. But a moment before everything is washed away, forgotten as though it never was, the social protest in Israel faces its big test in two days - its greatest test until now.

It is easy enough to gather an audience with the media - supportive and enthusiastic - behind you, and Shlomo Artzi and Eyal Golan on the stage, for free. It is ever so much harder to gather a crowd now, when the media and Golan have long ago moved on, as has student leader Itzik Shmuli, one of the organizers of the original protests. The Trajtenberg Committee succeeded, exactly as it was expected to, in melting down the protest. Those powerful people who wished for its demise have managed to diminish and even ridicule it. It was enough to glance at what remains a few days ago: Daphni Leef bewailing the bitter fate of a Holocaust survivor at a peculiar press conference in Rabin Square.

In a country where the Mossad is also the name of a two-year-old cafe, and public memory lasts as long as a butterfly's eternity, this is the time to remember what's been forgotten: Last summer's protest was the most impressive in Israeli history. It not only drew masses of people out into the streets, it also scored, in its short life, undeniable achievements. It taught Israelis that the power to enact change exists and it sounded a new, unfamiliar language in their ears - the language of civil society. Revolution was suddenly no longer a foul word, and like it, socialism, too. Prices went down and awareness went up, the rich were embarrassed, the politicians were dwarfed, and the generals felt a light slap on their shoulders. All this really happened, and not very long ago. The protest succeeded and the protest failed. It succeeded in resuscitating Israelis and failed to instill patience in them. One summer of happiness, like the summers of our childhood, a sweet illusion that is now about to burst, like a soap bubble. The rich in this country have returned to their ostentatiousness, of which they were ashamed for an instant - bar mitzvah feasts at the Tel Aviv port, Harry Potter-style, and television series that worship those who become rich - as if summer never was. Prices rise again: electricity, gas, what isn't more expensive? A free extra 10 percent added to a liter carton of milk is considered a gift, though it will be taken back. The bone thrown to the masses is returned to its illegitimate owners. The new, good order reverts to the old bad one.

So this is a moment of the ultimate test, which is likely to be the last one, not only for the protest, but also for society. If in two days Israelis prefer "The Wedding Game," we'll know that these things never existed at all. If the protest wasn't a protest, the revolution wasn't a revolution. If they stay home, we'll know they aren't deserving of change, any change; they don't deserve a revolution, any revolution. They like things the way they are, and mostly they like what there isn't. If, while the western world is gathering in its own protest tents, Israelis return to their television loungers, then we'll know: Israel doesn't want change; Israelis don't deserve change.