Portrait of the Young Man as an Oldster

In France, they still believe in struggles, they still believe that a prime minister, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, can be defeated and left with the spoon gagging him.

It was fascinating to follow the students' struggle in France and watch them defeat the president and prime minister - two inflated balloons punctured by a small hole that released the perfumed air of the Elysee in a humiliating, thin whistle. True, Jacques Chirac is still president, but everyone knows that he's done. While his protege, Dominique de Villepin, wants to be the next president, soon he won't even be prime minister. How beautiful and encouraging to see such an important, indeed self-important, man have his hair shorn by millions of young demonstrators, be decapitated in broad daylight without a guillotine.

One can argue about the quality of the amendment of the employment law that so troubled France. Maybe it is a good amendment, maybe a bad one. But that is not what is important. What's important is that the greater public cares - and even if it is wrong, it is determined in its struggle.

The French students believe the new law worsens their employment conditions. They didn't whine and complain, they didn't try to court anyone. They rose up and took to the barricades. In France, they still believe in struggles, they still believe that a prime minister, born with a silver spoon in his mouth, can be defeated and left with the spoon gagging him, poor soul. Watching the demonstrations there made one remember the students here and their ridiculous demonstrations. When the good little children of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem take to the streets and suffer blows from the local flics, they immediately start crying and make panicky calls to mothers and MKs. Two or three are arrested for two or three hours and the daring demonstrators have the gall to start hoarsely chanting "police state, police state" before the protest is over.

University drama departments produced a sketch that seemed more serious at the time and was like a turning point in local methods of protest and readiness to rebel against conventions. It took place when Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister. He wanted to raise tuition, and the students refused to pay or accept the decree; they went to war. The war went on for two weeks and ended at the Netanyahu home in a pleasant family atmosphere, with the prime minister and his wife offering the students some pizza. Since then, student leaders have managed to accept the freeze on the Winograd Commission recommendations, and every once in a while, they threaten to awaken as lions, though nobody is afraid any more.

What's the root of the difference between the students in France and elsewhere and Israeli students? Why are our students ready, for example, to pay higher tuition than any of their counterparts in Europe?

The student body in Israel is the cannon fodder of Israeli society and it doesn't have what Israeli society doesn't have. There is no real desire for change in the values and direction of Israeli society; there is no commitment to propriety or interest in alternative policies; there isn't even minimal solidarity and there's no belief in the need and ability to create a new world. The young people of this country are, by and large, very old people, who at most express being upset with a vote for seven personable pensioners; that is their revolution and that is the portrait of the young man as an oldster.

The student body here is a tender bone rendered from the bones of the Israeli establishment. In my various capacities as a public servant, I have noticed that the establishment is less open to concern about student concerns and more worried about the problems of the government, and every government, after all, claims l'etat c'est moi.

The French students succeeded because they did not hesitate to break the instruments of government, and not just pressure them with lukewarm water. At their age, they have not given up their dreams and there are no free dreams. They cooperate with the large trade unions because workers and students have a similar agenda and common interests; they must have. But not in Israel. Here, the regime is responsible for the common ground, after it has unilaterally determined what it shall be.

And the leaders of the cadres and the future are mostly the collaborators of the leaders of the present. They are junior activists seeking senior patrons. Whoever wants to be Gila Gamliel, when they grow up, will eat pizza and drink lemonade and won't take to the barricades. With every contact I had with student leaders, I spotted only a handful who didn't regard their constituency as a horse to ride on, into the Knesset.

Maybe all the sorrow of this sadness is going to change now. Last week I saw the photograph of the kindergarten children demonstrating against the Interior Ministry, demanding that they return their friend Marli's father and not expel him from the country. Marli is two and a half, and her father, Joel Manar, is a foreign worker from Ghana. Over and over, I looked at the photo and saw both thumbsucking and determination in their eyes. They demonstrated quietly, without crying and without peeing on the cops. I loved them, each and every one of those wise and beautiful children, the pacifiers in their mouths and their ponytailed hair and the fire in their eyes. I'm basing my hope for future, caring generations on these toddlers. Or maybe they should stay as they are, like in the picture, the babies of the state, never growing up to be ruined.