Israel's Social Protest Gave Birth to a New Language

It is not possible to call on Jews and Arabs to demonstrate together while waving in their faces "legitimate" questions about army service.

It is worth returning to the moment that preceded Saturday's giant demonstration, when Channel 10 broadcaster Sharon Gal raised something of a storm after he forced Daphni Leef, the young woman who initiated the protest movement, to explain in an interview why she had not served in the army. He brought to his defense another broadcaster from the same channel, Raviv Drucker, who assured him that the question was "legitimate." The two birds of a feather together sang the remnants of a discourse that has still not ended, that finds expression in an ongoing attempt to destroy this leader of a different kind of politics, that of compassion and freedom of speech, with the help of this discussion of "guilt."

That same day, Col. (Res. ) Ze'ev Raz, who led the 1981 attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, forwarded to several people an e-mail from Lt. Col. (Res. ) Uri Shpirko, in which he lamented his economic situation given his military contribution, and after the old, familiar rhetoric, he wrote: "Two weeks ago, I was outside the Tel Aviv Museum with 100,000 demonstrators and I chanted with a dry throat, 'the people demand social justice' - and I tell you, the revolution has begun, big time. There were people there from east and west, from north and south, youngsters, older people, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The protest was so multifaceted that I fell victim to its charms."

The former chief education officer of the Israel Defense Forces, Brig. Gen. Nehemia Dagan, responded to this e-mail: "It is a shame that these idealists are also cultured and polite, and that what was done by the Egyptians in Tahrir Square is not being done here. Forgive me if I say to you that the Egyptians knew where their leaders had taken them. We do not. In the end, everything will be fine, but it is just a shame that among the good guys of today several thousand will be missing who paid with their lives for that which these (are not ) doing, since we are 'cultured.'" Even the army officers are starting to internalize a new language - free of guilt - and are not asking "legitimate" questions.

For many years, the state victimized us with the help of commentators who taught us the sentence "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Whether this phrase was used by the late U.S. President John Kennedy or by former Knesset member Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, it was not aimed at people who can't make ends meet but rather at those who make us meet our ends. No longer. What has died here around us is that kind of patriotism. In its stead, a new discourse has sprung up - we are human beings and therefore we have the right to live as human beings. It is not possible to call on Jews and Arabs to demonstrate together while waving in their faces "legitimate" questions about army service.

Ever since the protest began, it has been carried out along two conceptual channels: On television, they interview all kinds of spokesmen that no one has appointed. Shahar Ilan, for example, continues to see everything as an attack on the ultra-Orthodox. After all, Ashkenazi students cannot call on their Mizrahi counterparts to join in a common struggle and to harass yeshiva students. Prof. Dan David also continues to scare us with talk of "an Arab-Haredi majority," and both of them are brought to the television studios on the back of the "protest wave." Time and again, there are those who try to bring into the protest discourse things that were not said there.

The power of the protest lies in the fact that it has not been dragged into populism of this kind: neither that of the present state budget ("yeshiva students are parasites" ) nor of the employment market ("they are also not productive" ). It is also only on television and in analysts' columns that the burden of serving in the reserves is mentioned, not in protest announcements. The way in which Leef turned her back on Gal should be engraved as a symbol: You can cover the story but don't give us grades or advice since, anyway, the protest doesn't interest you unless it is a scoop about a split, as if you were talking about the Kadima party. And don't make trouble between partners for the future.