I see you every Saturday evening on Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Bridge and the pedestrian bridge to Hayarkon Park. Dozens of good people, most of them area residents, blowing whistles, drumming on darabukka goblet drums, waving black flags and white signs.
It’s mainly older people, but there are plenty of young adults as well, families who have turned the demonstration into their regular Saturday-night activity. It’s a lovely, encouraging sight. Political awareness, caring, good citizenship, protest – what more do we want?
After all, for years these good people were in a political coma, sedated and ventilated, blind and indifferent, until a protest arose – and that’s reason to celebrate. They want the criminally indicted prime minister ousted, they want a different political culture – Bibi go home. Their demands couldn’t be more justified. We can’t go on this way, Israel is being destroyed. But I don’t stop to join them.
They’re my neighbors and close friends from the neighborhood, the salt of the earth, leftists and centrists, builders of the land, Haaretz readers, moderate and enlightened, feeders of street cats, the kind of drivers who stop at every crosswalk. They’re the beautiful islands in the bad and violent culture that has developed in Israel, and still my heart isn’t with them. The bridge they’re standing on is very narrow. Too narrow.
It’s permissible and necessary to create a protest movement whose sole aim is to drive out a bad government, regime or leader. The world is filled with such movements even now, from Belarus to Hong Kong.
But the Yarkon bridges are very narrow because the protest of the people standing on them is horrifically narrow. It can be argued that the first step must be to remove the evil – Benjamin Netanyahu’s government – but this protest movement has no second step. The protesters in Belarus are fighting for President Alexander Lukashenko to leave so they can make their country better and more just – so that the regime will change, not only its leader ousted.
But in Israel, even if Netanyahu went, the situation and the regime wouldn’t change materially. Straight talk and decent language would replace the lies and incitement, a few unsavory characters would leave the political stage, the next prime minister would be less greedy and more honest, but Israel would be the same.
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No candidate is waiting in the wings offering a different Israel. No candidate is calling for regime change. There’s an overwhelming consensus among all the contenders on maintaining Jewish supremacy and perpetuating the exclusion of and discrimination against Arab Israelis.
And there’s an even greater consensus over maintaining the occupation. Even if the bridges protest succeeds and Netanyahu and his government collapse, Israel won’t awaken to the dawn of a new day, but to an old day of the same bad situation.
The Israeli regime won’t change even if this protest succeeds. The Israeli regime stopped being democratic when the occupation became permanent. The occupation is what makes the Israeli regime clearly undemocratic.
The bridges protest completely ignores this. The black flags are waved against Netanyahu, the easy target, and not against the regime – the right target. In this situation, a protest movement that only wants to see “the corrupt guy from Balfour Street” go home or to prison isn’t a serious protest movement.
The demonstrators say they’re fighting for democracy, which is nice. But what democracy are you talking about, my neighbors in Ramat Aviv? After all, just a short drive from our homes there are people like us who live under a brutal tyranny. Even if your protest accomplishes its goals and Israel goes back to being what you consider democratic, and you get back the old Israel that you loved so much, those people will continue to live under that tyranny.
And that tyranny will prevent Israel from being considered a democracy, with or without Netanyahu. It’s against that tyranny that the black flags must be waved.
Every Saturday evening I ask myself why I don’t stop to be with you in your just struggle. Why don’t I drive to Balfour Street in Jerusalem, or to the Netanyahus’ private home in Caesarea? Why don’t I carry a black flag? But your flag, my dear friends, is a tiny flag made of plastic. It’s not a real flag.