Israel Needs a Political Protest Now

It's clear the new Netanyahu government won't stress social justice and that the 2011 movement's apolitical approach failed.

Remember Itzik Shmuli, Stav Shaffir, Daphni Leef and Yossi Yonah and what they promised would be a movement that demanded social justice? They and other activists insisted that the movement wouldn't take on a political character. They claimed that for the masses to identify with the movement it had to be a pure socioeconomic effort without links to politics.

But where are these leaders and activists now that the movement has been largely forgotten? Most participants in the demonstrations have returned to their regular jobs, and among the leaders, two (Shmuli and Shaffir) are Knesset members and one (Yonah) made it onto the Labor ticket.

So how can we interpret what they said while they were still activists? Were their words just pretense or did they simply not understand that it was impossible to separate the social protest from its political aspect? Either way, none of them has a chance to chalk up a sociopolitical achievement in the current Knesset. Based on their performance so far, their parties won't let them achieve anything for social justice, and it's almost certain that to avoid harming their political futures they won't go down this path.

In the United States, Egypt and Greece, many protest leaders realized that it was impossible to separate socioeconomic needs from political demands, because politicians are the managers of society and the economy. We need a new protest so that the new politicians continue to fight for fundamental change, including in Israel. But in this country the protest leaders didn't understand this.

Some of our friends say that before we can renew the protest we must see what the new government's policies are; whether Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett push through changes to improve the difficult socioeconomic situation that many people suffer. This view is mistaken. It's clear which way Lapid and Bennett are heading, and their views are similar to those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose antisocial measures and their outcomes are known.

Under the cover of needing to plug the budget deficit created by the previous Netanyahu government, this troika will create formidable socioeconomic problems this year and next, and Bennett won't agree to cut budget outlays for the settlements, the national religious and the ultra-Orthodox. As a result, the standing of the weaker classes is likely to worsen in the near future. It's almost certain that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has contributed greatly to the difficult socioeconomic situation, will be postponed again and again.

Therefore, the groundwork for a renewal of the protest movement should begin now. This sociopolitical movement would work to help the poor, curb the influence of the tycoons and religious, and prevent the exclusion of women and minorities. It would ensure better education and promote negotiations with the Palestinians. It must get to work immediately.

Naomi Sheffer is a board member at the nonprofit organization Ossim Shalom: Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare. Gabriel Sheffer is a professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

Protest leaders at press conference, September 27, 2011. From left: Avia Spivak, Daphni Leef, Yossi Yonah, Regev Konts and Stav Shaffir.Credit: Ofer Vakhnin

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