Israel Has No 'City Square' in Which to Protest

There are plenty of reason to take to the streets but you won't see Tahrir or maidan happening here in Israel.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The word maidan, “city square,” made a long journey from the Arab Middle East via the Turkish-Persian route to the heart of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Indeed, Cairo's Maidan Tahrir, Liberty Square, is now a sort of synonym for Maidan Nezalezhnosti – Independence Square, where the new Ukrainian revolution erupted.

The aim in these two squares is overthrowing regimes. In both, the public informed its rulers that when their policies were perceived as a national disaster, there was no alternative but to take to the streets and exploit the power of the masses, here and now.

The results of the Ukrainian rebellion, like the one born in Tahrir Square, are still unclear. Egyptian democracy still awaits redemption, and Ukraine’s westward turn is threatened by Russia's military. But it is obvious that in both cases, the public has "bought" – albeit, with a great deal of blood – full partnership in the process of setting policy.

There is no maidan in Israel. At best, Rabin Square hosts polite protests accompanied by poignant songs, and memorial rallies. Or serves as a starting point for races. Since reserve army officer Motti Ashkenazi’s public protest of the 1973 war, which was evidently the main factor that led to Golda Meir’s resignation the following year, and since the 1982 demonstration of 400,000 people protesting the massacre in Sabra and Chatila in Lebanon – only one other protest was conceived in this vicinity. This was the social-justice protest, which became entrenched in the public consciousness even though its tangible accomplishments were few.

Political protests of the sort that characterized the heady days of Peace Now, or those organized under the slogan “Yesha zeh kan” ("Judea, Samaria and Gaza are right here"), have disappeared without a trace. Their place has been taken by “initiatives,” committees, conferences, polls and newspaper ads: None of these endangers policy or foments any change, to say nothing of revolutions.

There is no lack of reasons today for mass protest. The major one is the disintegration of the peace process to the point where the country’s future is in peril. There is also no lack of awareness regarding possible threats to Israel.

For example, according to the index published in January by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, at least 50 percent of the respondents believe it's likely that economic sanctions will be imposed upon Israel. Furthermore, 56 percent of those who described themselves as centrists and 67 percent of those on the left believe that Israel will not be able to cope with such sanctions. The most impressive statistic is that 67 percent believe America's stance in the peace process will influence Prime Minister Benjamin's Netanyahu’s policy because he “will not be able to ignore the U.S. position or global public opinion.”

So there was a poll. Did the awareness revealed there get one person out into the street? Did someone put a sticker on his car? Organize a small demonstration at the airport?

Israel's prime minister goes off with his wife to meet the president of the United States, armed with hollow slogans and anti-pressure suits, and the public stares into space. The outline of Israel’s future relations with the last of its significant friends is becoming blurred with dark hues, and its settlement policy has become an abomination even in its own eyes after raising a stink in corridors of power all over the world.

Without polite gestures, President Barack Obama has placed the responsibility for the failure of talks so far directly upon Netanyahu. He is defining the nature of the Palestinian "partner" for his Israeli interlocutor, warning that time is a perishable commodity. As if these things are happening in Kiev or in Cairo.

It is fascinating, threatening, even tragic, but this has nothing to do with us. We can only envy the hundreds of thousands of Haredim who assembled Sunday to protest the draft decree imposed on them and turned Jerusalem into a maidan. What mobilization, what discipline, and what awareness of disaster.

The peace process can only dream of a mobilization like that.

But Kiev is not right here, nor is Tahrir Square. Obama can scold, wrinkle his brow and even spit in Netanyahu’s face, as long as he does so quietly. The Israeli public does not like to have its siesta disturbed. Did you see Sara’s coat? Did you hear the applause at this week's AIPAC conference? That is our lullaby.

Morsi opponents gather in Tahrir Square, July 19, 2013.Credit: AP
Anti-government protesters build barricades around Kiev's Independence Square. February 20, 201Credit: Reuters
A general view of anti-Morsi protesters chanting anti-government slogans in Tahrir Square in Cairo November 27, 2012. Credit: Reuters
Rabin Square, Tel AvivCredit: Ariel Shalit

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