Two Mindsets, One Political Goal

Golda didn't roll over in her grave. She's probably used to being a punching bag and synonym for fiasco. However, the protest rally against the war in Lebanon held Friday by bereaved families and reservists at her grave on Mount Herzl was one of the most astounding events in the history of Israeli protest. Not necessarily because of the harsh words spoken there, but for the sheer fact that the plot assigned to the nation's leaders was placed at the disposal of the anti-government protest.

Two conclusions can be drawn from the formal permit given to the demonstrators to hold their rally there: The first is that those in charge of the matter were in tacit agreement with the purpose, backed by the sense of consensus surrounding the protest; the other, even more important, indicates the undisputed power of bereavement in Israeli life. It is hard to believe a similar permit to hold a political protest rally at the cemetery, in the plot devoted to the national dignitaries - the ultimate symbol of Israeli statehood, would be granted to any other group besides bereaved parents. The founding fathers, who for generations nurtured the special status of bereaved parents as part of the Israeli ethos of heroism, on Friday paid the price of that ethos: In the past, they themselves enlisted the parents' grief for their political ends; now, the grief has turned against them. Those who with the state's establishment came up with "in their death they ordered us to live," never thought that years later this spiritual will would be translated into "in their death they ordered us to protest."

There's nothing new in the usage itself. Since the Yom Kippur War, bereavement has become a legitimate tool for political protest. There are bereaved parents on the right and left. Both have been invited to contribute their personal grief to election campaigns, the signing of the Oslo Accords, the pullout from Lebanon and the disengagement. Only when the bereavement does not suit their needs do our leaders dismiss it, saying: "We do not argue with bereaved parents," and insinuate that the pain disrupted their judgment.

How cynical: Just three weeks ago, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert quoted publicly from a letter of support he received from a bereaved father, Moshe Muskal, at the start of the war; now, when Muskal is leading the bereaved parents' call for Olmert to resign, he cannot find the time to meet with him to receive another missive, a protest letter. The army lives in peace with political bereavement, which always targets the government and leaves the army out of range. The same applies now: the bereaved parents demand Olmert's resignation; the reservists who joined forces with them are the ones calling also for the chief of staff to go. In the middle is a large public that settles for expressing its opinion of the leadership in polls.

The emotionally charged procession the Muskal family organized on Friday was much more than a tribute to their fallen son, Rafanael, and it was more than pure protest activity. It was a physical journey among the state's symbols, and especially a bonding journey toward renewed legitimization of the national-religious camp, whose strength was eroded in the disengagement. The majority of the thousand people who came to Mt. Herzl belong to that camp. Throughout the day, as they traveled a route that took them to heavily symbolic battle sites, they made their great tikkun. Even if this was not the conscious intention, it was the result, ending with the "conquest" of the ultimate summit - Mt. Herzl.

At Golda's grave, Moshe Muskal gave Olmert four days to resign - until the start of the Jewish month of Elul, in which the Slihot prayers are recited. The very different discourse of the young, secular generation was reflected in the words of Staff Sergeant (res.) Roni Zwiegenboim, one of the leaders of the reservists' protest. Zwiegenboim, an economics student, appealed to the crowd: "Don't forget that you are the landlords; Olmert, Peretz and Halutz work for us, and like failed executives at any private enterprise - they will go home."

So far the shared political goal is bridging the rhetorical and generational gaps, the world views joined for the moment by fate. The synergy is there; only the masses are missing. The Muskals plan to protest outside the Prime Minister's Office; the reservists plan to set up a protest tent in Tel Aviv today. This week will be a litmus test for the protest's future.