Israelis Must Reignite the Social Protests

Activism scored a brief victory last summer, but after that the passivity returned, and people went back to sitting in front of the TV and the computer, complaining about price hikes.

If war breaks out, no one will be talking about the wave of price hikes, but even without war, the illusion that something real came out of last year's social-justice protests has been shattered. Even if we were to agree that "the discourse has changed," it's no longer any consolation, even though for a minute there the protests looked like more than a one-off response to the hazards of capitalism; that a movement had sprung up whose strength was growing and that promised to truly change things.

There were those who doubted. History has taught us it's important to decide who belongs and who doesn't belong. The media were determined to brand the ultra-Orthodox as the enemies - a proven recipe for taming the wayward, although the protesters actually resisted the incitement. On the other hand, no effort was made to include Sephardi Jews among the protest leadership, which would have broken the continuous sequence of the old domination. Of course, no one tried to pull Arabs into the protest. Nevertheless, the wave grew stronger.

When it became clear that there was some connection between a drop in advertising budgets and the social-justice protest, the commercial channels decided enough was enough and that there was no need to "blow things out of proportion" with live coverage. And we began to suspect that the whole process had been nothing more than the product of last year's media silly season - a reality program that again and again presents the Jewish people as consumers of sweet fat.

Truthfully, if it's possible to raise the cost of food, gasoline and VAT so casually, without any official fear of a response from the man or woman on the street, it's clear that whatever fear the regime experienced last year has ebbed and that the protest is dead.

Nevertheless, we cannot relate to the waves of protest as a mere spray of media messages. We cannot let it go, as if there can be no sequel. The interpretation of historical events is a tool of the regime (or the opposition ), and only what happens in the future will determine the significance of last summer. We must not let this wave of price increases generate fear of impotence, which will only increase our impotence. It can't be that political newcomer Yair Lapid will benefit, while his nakedness goes unrevealed.

Political society, of which Lapid the Second is an excellent example, is capable of crushing any protest, because political society is absolute. Civil society offers no alternative and, in any case, we don't have, nor have we ever had, a civil society. That's why Israelis are so passive.

The relative success of the so-called protest to equalize the burden is testimony to the success of passivity as an ideology: Someone whistles, and everyone rushes to respond to the state's whistle and whistles along ("One nation, one draft" ). It's easy to mock the passivity of old Moroccan women, but reserve pilots are equally passive (have you seen any reserve pilots protesting against a war with Iran other than in their living rooms? ).

In contrast with other democratic societies, including those with mass immigration, Israeli society is fashioned by political society, rather than the other way around. That's why Israelis are the most passive people anywhere.

They were born into existing political (and linguistic ) structures, and they cannot think of themselves as a collective in any terms other than those of the state. This is also the source of Israelis' inability to operate at the same time in areas that are not in the center of the country; and the refusal to think in terms of taking control on the municipal level, conquering one city or town at a time. From this stems the desire for Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, where the protest began, and the inability to develop a force that can be assigned and dispersed, rather than gathering in front of ministerial offices, or marching to Jerusalem, as if that's how to bring about change.

Activism scored a brief victory last summer, but after that the passivity returned, and people went back to sitting in front of the TV and the computer, complaining about price hikes. This passivity must evaporate, and be replaced by a growing anger over what's left of our miserable paycheck, if we even still have one. It's time to mobilize!