If Saturday night’s “unity protest” at the Tel Aviv Museum was meant to be a
make-or-break show of force, the future may be bleak for the social justice
movement that celebrated its first anniversary last month.
entrance to the plaza, hundreds of “Enough!” placards lay undisturbed, as the
easily navigable crowd numbered only a few thousand, days after a widely
unpopular series of government budget cuts and tax hikes was
The night highlighted the well-publicized schism between the
protesters at the museum rally and those who took part in the protest march from
the Habimah Theater to the government complex on Kaplan Boulevard. Those at
Habimah slammed the museum demonstration as a “campaign rally” for the Labor
Party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, and called on the public to boycott
Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shafir, saying both have forsaken the cause of social
justice to pursue their budding political careers.
Two moments stood out
during Saturday night’s rally at the museum; a crowd of a few dozen
counter-protesters from the social justice march that set out from Habimah tried
to disrupt the rally, calling speakers “Bibi [Prime Minister Binyamin
At one point they shouted down disabled
attorney Karin Alharar, who sat in a wheelchair as she read a speech from the
plaza floor in front of the stage.
Other than that disruption, the most
notable moment came when a man in a Batman suit scaled the scaffolding and
appeared on stage, spreading his cape wide before he was taken off by
National Union of Israeli Students chairman Shmuli sounded an
optimistic tone on Sunday, saying that “over the past year we’ve learned that
this is a continued struggle.
We’re not on a big high when there’s tens
of thousands of protesters at the rally and not on a down when only a few
Furthermore, Shmuli said the movement is devoted “to
bringing about a change in Israeli society, not only to bring people out into
the streets. Protests are a means but not the goal.”
When asked why the
protests were no longer able to muster the crowds of hundreds of thousands that
came out last summer to call for change, he said, “I think that we should look
at summer 2011 as a historic event and we don’t need to always look to try to
repeat this event, but to take this energy of last summer and apply it to the
changes that people want to bring about.”
The split among the protesters
appears to pit more establishment types such as Shmuli, widely seen as pursuing
a future political career, possibly in the Labor Party, against those holding
illegal street protests and calling for a total upheaval in the Israeli economic
Protester Shir Alony, who took part in the march to Kaplan
Boulevard, said the museum rally “was an election rally for certain parties, and
the other rally was focused instead on the social issues that affect our society
all of the time.”
Alony said the rally at the museum “was an exploitation
of the movement,” and that Shafir and the other participants are no longer part
of their struggle.
Protester Uri Ophir criticized the museum rally’s call
for universal service, which he said is part of efforts “to draft weak sectors;
the Arabs and the haredim, and to advance Yair Lapid’s political career,” while
the march to Kaplan “was devoted to a more radical cause of social change
without pursuing personal political goals.”
When asked if the movement is
better served by a greater sense of unity among protesters, Ophir said, “I am in
favor of cooperation both in the long term and the short term with all types of
groups, but this particular group I don’t believe is devoted to the same causes
that we are. Our ideologies don’t resemble one another.”
What both sides
appear to agree on is that the protests are only a means to an end, and that the
movement still lacks a clear leadership or political party to which to anchor
“Demonstrations are no longer the way to accomplish change, or
not the only one.
People must go out and meet people, talk to them, and
encourage them [to believe] that things can be changed,” said activist Yonatan
Levi, driving to Eilat on Sunday as part of a weeklong cross-country trip in
which activists plan to meet disaffected Israelis.
Levi said the wider
public that supports the social justice protest movement has been neglected over
the past year by the core of activists living in Tel Aviv, a situation the
movement must remedy if it is to succeed.
“The protest has been focused
on itself for a long time, and we think it’s important to reach out again to the
wider public,” Levi said.