Summer Sun and Clear Heads

This summer of our discontent could end up improving life in Israel, as long as both demonstrators and the prime minister keep a clear head even when the winds of change are whipping them into a frenzy.

Historical irony apparently has a special affection for Israeli prime ministers: They are often compelled to implement policies that contradict their own worldviews and do the exact opposite of the campaign slogans that brought them to power.

Benjamin Netanyahu has not escaped this fate. In the diplomatic realm, he was forced against his will to recognize (at least declaratively ) the need to divide the land. And now, he is facing a popular opposition of unprecedented strength that demands the diametric opposite of the economic worldview that is his pride and joy.

What makes this especially ironic is that the tent protesters' demand for the immediate establishment of a "welfare state" the likes of which has never before been seen is aimed precisely at the greatest devotee of the free market and competition. But it could be that this demand would have been less sweeping and aggressive had Netanyahu, throughout his tenure, not demonstrated such deep contradictions between his ideological purity on the rhetorical level and his serial appeasements and capitulations on the practical political level.

Thus two weeks after the protests erupted, Netanyahu is now being required to do several contradictory things at once: be attentive to the public's feelings and placate the demonstrators, maintain his own integrity and the unquestionable achievements of his economic policy, acknowledge the need to redirect this policy and orient it more toward social justice, and rise above two of his own most characteristic behavior patterns: panicked hysteria on one hand, and inactivity and chronic procrastination on the other. Yet impossible though maneuvering among these contradictions may seem, the only alternatives are either political and economic chaos or resigning and calling new elections.

But the protest movement will have to engage in no less complicated maneuvering. On one hand, it must not lose its momentum and its invigorating spirit. On the other, it must not become intoxicated with power and entrench itself in the mannerisms of revolution for the sake of revolution and slogans of sweeping opposition to everything (like its opposition to the National Housing Committees Law, which created a fast-track approval process for residential construction ). It would do well to translate its desires into realistic political language that takes account of the objective constraints as quickly as possible.

This summer of our discontent, which has erupted with surprising intensity this year, could end up improving life in Israel, as long as both the demonstrators and the prime minister and his cabinet are wise enough to keep a clear head even when the winds of change are whipping them into a frenzy.