For the second summer in a row, Israel has become a state of all its demonstrators. Whether the explanation is that all hope is lost or whether this is a process of unselective learning and imitation, the feeling is that if you are not there on the street, you do not exist. Social networks are in most cases the basis for the rise of social protest and are also the initial platform for banding together. But they do not photograph well; they do not sound a real voice and they are not as threatening as activists on these networks think they are. With all due respect to technology, the street still rules.
The protesting public, in all its hues and causes, is quick to celebrate victory in its very emergence onto the street. If that were simply because a social awakening had occurred, the celebration would be in order. But it seems that the logic of the protest's leaders those who have joined it is based on two questionable assumptions.
The first is that the more people in the streets and on the Web, the more the protest will be perceived as popular, logical, justified and having the potential to bend the government, particularly the head of that government, Benjamin Netanyahu, to its will.
Netanyahu represents the second optimistic assumption of the protesters. He is perceived as a prime minister and a man who is particularly susceptible to pressure. If these two assumptions are put together, we can understand why the throngs are optimistic and worried at the same time. The likelihood that their demands will be met is unconnected to the question of how justified or realistic they are. Rather, they are mainly connected to the number of people making the demand, to the decibels they produce and to the extent the prime minister stands up against them.
The protesters, like the representatives of the government, are constantly busy learning their lessons. Each side is trying to find the mechanism that will ensure it victory. The recipes for success of this side or that are varied and sometimes unexpected. What works well in one case does not necessarily ensure success in another. And on the sidelines other potential, more somnolent protest groups are waiting for the right circumstances to launch their own campaigns.
The protesters, current and future, are waiting for the response of Netanyahu and the government. If Netanyahu knuckles under to the pressure and meets the demands, the next big demonstration is just a matter of time. And in the case of homogenous groups like the settlers or the Haredim, who are expected to pay the price if Netanyahu gives in to the secular protests of the past two summers, no surprises should be expected. The legions are at the ready, they are used to being patient, and the prime minister, as we know, is especially sensitive to the demands of the people whom he identifies as his natural allies.
He is so sensitive that the mere threat that they will take to the streets is enough to lead him to seek creative and clearly unjustified solutions, so long as they avoid conflict for him. That is what he did with Beit El's Ulpana neighborhood and how he is now dissolving any logical and egalitarian solution to the matter of military and national civilian service and the social protest. Because Netanyahu is less attentive to those already in the streets than he is worried about those who might head there if he makes a decision that is not to their liking.
Moshe Silman, who immolated himself Saturday night in the street, has started a storm on the Web. But that probably does not bother Netanyahu. The prime minister and his people do not fear dialogue on the Web; they probably smile at the modest numbers of protesters this year.
Sad to say, this summer we are re-learning an important lesson about the limitations of the Web, and that the real victors are the ones who remain at home and only threaten to take to the streets.
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