Motorbike Riders' Well-oiled Campaign

On Thursday, motorcyclists were able to chalk up another victory in their fight against the increase in compulsory insurance rates planned for the beginning of November. Demonstrations by half-naked riders succeeded, as expected, in grabbing the headlines. "Steinitz is forcing us to ride with no coverage," stated posters carried by riders wearing only undergarments or bathing suits. A bikini-clad woman wrote on her leg: "The insurance is stripping me!" Yet anyone who had the impression that this was a spontaneous protest effort that went well was mistaken. This is a well-oiled and well coordinated media campaign.

It started with the jamming of the Ayalon Highway by slow-moving riders, an obvious and almost banal action for this type of protest. The riders' goal was to illustrate what will happen to major traffic arteries if the increased rates force all motorcyclists to switch to cars. Later on, the fight moved on to small-scale guerilla tactics: Motorcycles grabbed car parking spots in city centers. Ahead of Yom Kippur, a small group wearing prayer shawls rode to the home of the Commissioner of Capital Markets, Insurance and Savings, Yadin Antebi. They blew a shofar and called on him to atone for his sins.

On Friday, around 20 bikers rode around the streets of Tel Aviv. The roar of their motorcycles, which moved like a swarm of bees toward Rabin Square, could be heard from a distant. "A country that eats its riders," stated one of the stickers on their motorcycles, "Enough riding on the riders!" declared another.

Moped riders, biker groups, on-line motorcycling forum managers, the Israel Motorcycle Club, small business owners and automotive columnists have bonded together for this campaign, but they are not the only ones. The first push actually came from the motorcycle importers, who have an interest in providing an incentive to favor motorcycles over other vehicles.

The campaign headquarters' meetings are overseen by media consultant Nissim Dweck, who works with one of the large motorcycle importers. Together with the Harel Muradi public relations firm, he advises the campaign's leaders on how to proceed, in addition to offering legal advice and a lobbying group in the Knesset.

"I have to say whether it's a good idea, whether it will do the job," explains Dweck. He does not take credit for the successes until now: "I think this campaign is reverberating among the public because there is a big group here and a real problem. We are operating like in a military operation."

According to Dweck, bikers have thriving virtual communities on the Internet, and therefore their efforts are focused on a few sites and a protest group on the social network Facebook.

And when in the midst of a military campaign, do as in a military campaign, so there is also propaganda. At the moment, the efforts are focused on organizing a big demonstration next Saturday night at Rabin Square. For that, the bikers are trying to enlist some top names. So far, they say, they have managed to enlist the members of the Mashina rock band and entertainers Eyal Kitzis and Zvika Hadar. "Any recognized personality who rides a motorcycle is being enlisted. We have a team working only on this," says Dweck.

The entire campaign is being waged with a clear strategy: First the protest was aimed at the commissioner of insurance, then it moved to the finance minister and from there the spotlight will turn to the prime minister. "We will ask for a meeting with Bibi, because he is the only one who can stop the fight," Dweck insists.