The problem with the social justice movement
The city is home to some 400,000 Israelis. If you vandalize it, it probably means you do not truly love it and appreciate it.
Police arrest social justice leader Daphne Leef Photo: Courtesy Michal Grossberg
In July 2011, a 25-year-old film student was forced to vacate her central Tel
Aviv apartment where she had been living for three years because of major
renovations being done in her building. So she went apartment shopping, and
became vexed by the rental prices in Israel’s White City, which had doubled in
the past five years. The young bohemian, with no army experience, opened a
Facebook page and invited others to join her protest. She pitched a tent in
HaBima Square in Tel Aviv and soon after, other protesters gathered in the
streets around Rothschild Boulevard, Rabin Square and even Zion Square in
Jerusalem, as well as other locations around the country.
The name of the
young film student is Daphni Leef, and in 2011, she made Israeli history.
However, while the social justice movement and last summer’s impressive tent
city should go down in the books as the moment when the country’s youth left the
societal system and from outside it, demanded change; this year’s attempted
repeat did not go as smoothly. The mob became unruly, holding an illegal protest
that blocked the streets, testing the limits of riot police and vandalizing
buildings in the center of Tel Aviv.
The city is home to some 400,000
Israelis. If you vandalize it, it probably means you do not truly love it and
appreciate it. And perhaps this is Leef’s problem to begin with: not
appreciating what she has. After all, she is from the affluent Rehavia
neighborhood of Jerusalem and Kfar Shmaryahu in Tel Aviv. She attended Tel Aviv
University and majored in film. She is not from a poor neighborhood, does not
have a poor family; did not immigrate to Israel in her youth. Instead she has
had every opportunity those in the lower classes (whose position she seems to
envy by her aggressiveness aimed at the government and fiscal infrastructure) do
not; including attending a fine high school in swanky Ramat HaSharon, where her
talent as a filmmaker was nourished.
This year, a Friday afternoon and
Saturday evening spent on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv convinced me that the
magic and dynamic energy of 2011’s social justice movement is not quite the
same. This year, it lacked focus and was a cityscape painted in darker
Last year’s protest made some good points and the movement had
support from 85 percent of voters from the ruling Likud, according to a poll by
Channel 10. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appointed a committee to
brainstorm solutions to the country’s socioeconomic problems. Netanyahu
announced a new housing plan, including special incentives for developers who
build smaller apartments (ability to buy land from the Israel Land
Administration up to 50% cheaper), student housing, rent-earmarked housing and
plans to add some 50,000 brand new apartments to the country’s housing market
over the next two years. However, the socioeconomic changes that the plan will
make will take some three years to be felt, according to the finance
I spoke with protesters early on Friday afternoon. One
protester, Yotam, 29, said that “The economic and political systems” are what is
wrong with the country. He complained about the “distribution of wealth. We
[Israel] are second on the list in the world with the biggest gap in equality of
wealth. There is a connection between who runs the politics and the
newspapers... the media. So what happens,” he explained, “is good, honest,
hard-working people are struggling under the economic burden. There’s enough
money in the country, but it is not being distributed right.”
according to the interview, the middle-class victim of his
ANOTHER PROTESTER yelled into a megaphone, “Those with
Those without... die,” referring to the high taxes for
young single people and comparably lower taxes for big businesses, and the low
However, the protesters said nothing about immigrants and
foreign workers who live in South Tel Aviv in cheaper rental units. It sounded
like the same jargon as last year, but this year there is a refugee crisis, and
a real fiscal crisis in the EuroZone. What does Israel’s middle class have to be
agitated about? One wonders.
On Friday afternoon, the local Tel Aviv
government did not seem to allow demonstrating until riot police were
Saturday night, the protests drew thousands of demonstrators to
HaBima Square near Rothschild Boulevard.
Movement organizer Daphni Leef,
along with 11 other demonstrators, had been arrested there Friday and released
by Saturday, in order to resume protests, according to Stav Shaffir, another
movement organizer, who I spoke with briefly and who told me that Leef had
returned to the scene for the evening demonstration.
At 10:00 p.m.,
protestors marched up Ibn Gvirol Street near Rabin Square, banging on percussion
instruments, tin pots and anything they could get their hands on chanting, “The
people want democracy!” There were brief moments of violence between protesters
and the police.
Attorney Barak Cohen was lightly wounded by a police
officer. He was followed down the street by cameras as blood dripped from his
nose, staining his white T-shirt.
Another woman was shoved by an officer
for trying to break through the barrier of riot police standing with arms
locked. However, while police forces scrambled to make a border around the area,
the mob was permitted to demonstrate.
At about 11:00 p.m., demonstrators
broke into the Discount Bank on Ibn Gvirol, near Rabin Square. The mob entered
the bank and slammed on the metal sheets outside the building.
police lined up behind the scene of vandalism, however they didn’t take any
As the crowd made its way down Ibn Gvirol Street, blocking
traffic, a group of demonstrators held up a silver and blue tent – the symbol of
the movement – and brought the tent inside Bank Leumi, trying to shut the door
behind them. The crowd roared in approval. The police did not follow and the
people were allowed to protest.
Later on, as I made my way out of the
city toward Ramat Gan, I gazed down from an overpass as demonstrators blocked
traffic on the southbound lanes of the Ayalon Highway; some were heading to the
Alozorov train station.
Eighty-five arrests were made throughout the
THE SOCIAL justice movement needs to realize that a change to
the country’s fiscal paradigm is not an overnight process, but rather a sluggish
It seems as if a small sector of the country’s middle class
is making demands that the rest of the country cannot fulfill. Perhaps the
social justice movement is after all just really immature.
If the people
want change they need to focus on just what it is that they want to change, and
how they suggest these changes be implemented. Maybe they can blog about their
demands and complaints about the quality of life in Israel, or they can vote for
the party which they see fit to run the country – putting the democracy they
have always lived with into effect, instead of creating anarchy. If worse comes
to worst, move in with your parents. But don’t vandalize Tel Aviv and create a
dangerous situation. Putting the lives of the police, civilians and themselves
in danger is no way to go about demanding change.
We will not let the few
speak for the whole. That is to say, this generation of Israelis is not just an
angry and unruly mob. They are, for the most part, hardworking, wise and
Leef and her compatriots are giving her
generation a bad name.
The writer is a freelance journalist based in