The Comatose State: Why Israel Needs a Tahrir Square

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Dawn, and the last mosquitoes are dying in the bedroom. The garbage trucks are making their last rounds. And the newscasts are reporting the day’s forecast (hot and humid), the latest traffic accidents and the death of an infant girl abandoned in the family car.

Tel Aviv is waking up to yet another routine day, and people are off to the local grocery store or supermarket to stock up on bread and cottage cheese – that national symbol of the social protest movement.

On the bus, the conversations revolve around the hike in the price of arak, while on Levinsky Street the salted fish merchants are bringing in supplies of lakerda (bonito) and salted herring, imported from Turkey.

Israelis are the sweet dream of a political regime that rules a subservient nation with the one-time ability to launch a one-time protest against the government’s decrees.

On the way to the demonstration or on the way home, they will make sure to stop at the nearest restaurant for a “little something in a pita.” When one sees what is happening in Egypt and Syria, our protest over this or that issue is just one big yawn to the people in power.

Once every four years, Israelis do their civic duty by casting their ballot in the parliamentary election. After the election, they return to their comatose state and boast that their country is an island of stability and democracy.

In 1973, we crowed that our situation was superb. In another three months, we will mark the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. Then we will probably extract, from the hidden nooks and crannies of our archives, documents that show how close we were to a Tahrir Square-style demonstration, and how we were on the verge of the destruction of the Third Temple - to quote then Defense Minister Moshe Dayan.

At the time, our legendary leaders thought Egypt wanted to attack us but could not do so without collaborating with Syria. We had no idea that, right under the noses of our glorified heads of intelligence, those two countries were putting together plans for launching the offensive. Similarly, our kingdom is certain today that what is happening in Egypt and Syria is actually good for us. While the earth is burning in a tectonic revolution, we are, as it were, an island of stability and reason.

The neighboring states are bubbling like hot lava and the entire world is familiar with Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Istanbul’s Taksim Square - but not Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Does the apparent stability that we seem to be enjoying right now really reflect our true situation?

The answer is a flat no. At best, Israel is currently benefiting from its connection with the United States - but that situation will not last forever. If we do not help ourselves, no one else will do the task for us. Not even the American administration. Given our talent for getting on people’s nerves, even the mightiest of our friends will eventually become fed up with us.

What is happening in the world of Islamic extremism could become more acute and spread to our turf as well. An Egyptian journalist who speaks Hebrew fluently was interviewed by an Israeli journalist in the thick of events at Tahrir Square. After explaining the situation of now deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, she began to advise us on what we should do in accordance with the Tahrir principle: “If [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Finance Minister Yair] Lapid don’t keep their promises, just topple them. Don’t take things lying down.”

It is unclear how that principle will be applied in Egypt. However, Egypt’s problems are unlike ours. During the honeymoon that Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat enjoyed in the 1970s, Begin noticed that the Egyptian leader kept looking at his watch. When Begin asked whether he was in a hurry, Sadat's response highlights what Morsi did not understand but his predecessors did: Sadat said that children were being born every minute, and they had to be supplied with bread.

Israel’s central problem is neither a lack of bread nor abject poverty; it is the failure of its leaders to keep their basic promise to bring peace. The fact that the Arab states are currently occupied with their own internal problems cannot be cited as proof of the justness of the government’s argument that, under these circumstances, there are no threats at present to Israel’s security. Quite the opposite: Events such as the Tahrir Square protests and what is occurring now in Syria, plus the involvement of Iran and Hezbollah, could actually lead to war and murderous terrorist attacks against Israel. However, Israel’s leaders - who say that the majority of Israelis are not in favor of territorial concessions in return for peace - do whatever takes their fancy.

Hey you, nation, good morning! You have to do more than just cast a ballot and go off for a cruise to Greece. Peace will never be achieved if you don’t go out onto the streets and emulate the Tahrir Square model here in Israel.

Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square during a demonstration against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in Cairo in June 30, 2013. Credit: AP

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