March of the Million .
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Now that the Gilad Schalit emotional roller-coaster is safely over (at least in
terms of Gilad’s return home), we can redirect our attention to more mundane
issues, such as the question of where the social protest is going, if
The protest was born out of a real sense of distress among
younger, educated, mostly Ashkenazi members of the middle class who are finding
it more difficult to make ends meet. However, it’s not completely clear who (if
anyone) is pulling the movement’s strings behind the scenes.
seem clear is that all sorts of groups, such as various professors with social
democratic or radical leftist agendas, and the leaders of the “National Left”
movement, have hitched a ride on the protest for their own political and/or
The only one of the acknowledged leaders of the
protest who appears to have a clear idea where he’s going is student leader
Itzik Shmuli. But while we know he has political ambitions, we do not know where
exactly he stands politically.
My guess is that he is close to the
National Left, headed by Eldad Yaniv.
Daphni Leef and Stav Shaffir seem
to be way out of their depth.
Be this as it may, it is clear that unless
the energies of the protest turn to political venues, the results will be meager
at best. Though it is not clear whether Eldad Yaniv is effectively one of the
behind-the-scene sources of inspiration for the protest, he does seem to
represent many of its active participants, at least on one issue – the belief
that the Knesset, in its current make-up and modus operandi, is passé and about
to undergo a revolutionary change.
In a recent article in Haaretz Yaniv
referred to the current MKs as “120 lazy bums.” He bases his “observation” on
the length of the Knesset sessions (which incidentally are not much different
than those of other parliaments), and the fact that the Knesset did not view the
ongoing protests as sufficient reason to cut short its summer
Instead of a full-blown debate about the protests, lawmakers made
due instead with a few short, inconclusive recess sittings initiated by the
Opposition, which debated motions for the agenda relating to the social protest
in the absence of Netanyahu.
Besides demonstrating total ignorance
regarding the roles of the Knesset and its members, it is not clear what,
exactly, Yaniv expected the Knesset to do. To immediately start working on
legislation that would have changed the government’s social and economic policy
by 180 degrees? This is not realistic given the fact that most MKs are more
concerned with legislation that deals with welfare benefits to specific social
sectors rather than the general evils of an unbridled market economy that has
turned into a “corporate pyramids” economy that somehow fails to benefit society
as a whole.
Furthermore, for some inexplicable reason Yaniv expects the
19th Knesset to look completely different in terms of its make-up from the
current Knesset, even though the voters will remain more or less the
What the leaders of the social protest can try to achieve is to get
young voters who previously sat on the proverbial fence to vote for parties that
support change, and to try to get people to vote on the basis of a social agenda
– an almost hopeless task in Israel.
But even if this happens, the
resulting political change will be marginal, and is unlikely to change the
balance between thecenter-right camp and its religious supporters, and the
center-left, predominantly secular camp, which on certain issues enjoys the
support of the Arab parties.
Yaniv predicts that the first legislative
act of the 19th Knesset will be to change the electoral system, which he
believes (on what basis?) will turn the whole Israeli democratic system inside
out, and bring salvation.
All serious studies show that a while electoral
system reform might bring some benefits, large sections of society would remain
What is certain is that a mixed system of national and
regional elections (which Yaniv favors) will not necessarily increase the power
of the sector from which the social protesters emerged.
What is needed
now is not pipe dreams, but a serious and realistic political strategy to ensure
that a majority in the Knesset will support at least some of the changes
demanded by the protesters.
At the moment the only game in town (much to
the chagrin of the protesters) is the Trajtenberg proposals.
Even if the
government were extremely eager to implement the proposals made in this report
(which it is not), Knesset approval is required. Referring to the MKs as “120
lazy bums” is not a good start.The writer is a member of the Labor Party
and is currently engaged in research and lecturing on the Knesset.