Time to End the Ambiguity

There is no doubt that the social protest movement has reached a turning point and must decide on its identity and aims.

The demonstrations last Saturday night did not indicate in any way that the social protest was waning. Given the conditions prevalent then, including the firing of missiles on the south of the country and rumors of war against Iran, the turnout was impressive - and not only in Tel Aviv. At the same time, there is no doubt that the protest movement has reached a turning point and must decide on its identity and aims. First and foremost, those who gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square must decide whether they are indeed a movement or a collection of individuals who have complaints of different sorts against the economic establishment but not against the social order as a whole.

Indeed, for the time being, the protesters lack a basic element of extreme importance - unified aims. Some of them would be satisfied with a cheap mortgage, free education from the age of 3, and freezing tuition fees, while there are others who are striving truly and honestly for a society that is prepared to take responsibility for realizing every individual's right to welfare. It is true that the right to social equality is no less important than the right to equality before the law, and freedom from poverty and degeneration is no less important than the right to self-determination.

That is the social-democratic approach that was implemented in Europe after World War II, and not especially, or not only, by the socialists. It was championed also by liberals who understood that the Old World had collapsed and, together with building a different Europe, it was necessary to adopt a different pattern of social relations.

Without an awareness of that kind, it is not possible to carry out genuine change, and the Israeli protest movement has reached a point where its supporters have to take stock. Do they want and are they capable of struggling for a different kind of distribution of public wealth? In other words, are they prepared to fight neoliberalism to the end or will they make do with improvements at the margins? Certainly, mobilizing national resources for the purpose of correcting social distortions and striving for as much equality as possible touch the very heart of the existing socioeconomic system, and therefore the struggle is necessarily political and requires political tools.

So far, the heads of the protest have sought to stick to ambiguity with regard to the aims of the struggle, but this approach has already exhausted itself. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has grasped that well, and the tent dwellers therefore no longer scare him. He does not even bother to mention their existence from the Knesset dais. He knows that the demonstrators are fearful of going openly against the government since that act would be a declaration of war on the rule of the right - a position that so far the protest leaders have tried to avoid at all costs. He knows too that a spontaneous and unorganized popular movement, which does not equip itself soon with political tools that threaten the government, is doomed to decline, to shrivel up and to atrophy.

That is what happened to the European protest movement of the 1960s. That is what happened to the Peace Now movement, whose leaders destroyed it with their own hands when they preferred to try to enter the Knesset as individual infiltrators instead of building a force that took upon itself the responsibility of a party. The slogan was: Stay with the center, don't split the camp and avoid any formal organizational structure.

Today it is clear that a movement that focuses on only one aspect of a complex reality will not be able to spread its wings. In any society, and especially in Israeli society, which on a daily basis deals with existential problems, such as settlement colonialism, a large public force cannot be satisfied with a sectorial struggle and at the same time hope to succeed beyond gathering a few crumbs.

The decision is difficult because there is a great deal of charm and convenience in the pretension of being apolitical. However, on the national level, that is also a recipe for failure. In a democracy the struggle is between organized political forces, and success will shine only on those who dare to leap into icy waters.