The heat is on

What is it with Tel Avivians, the weather and anarchic penchants?

July 5, 2012 14:26
Social Justice protesters on White Night

Angry social justice protesters 521. (photo credit: Reuters)

With the onset of summer in Tel Aviv, a sense of reckless abandon permeates the muggy air. School’s out and so are the kids. Gone are the days of lonely midday ambles on the beachfront; these days the beaches are packed with loud-haired, loud-mouthed adolescents armed with nargila pipes, matkot (paddles) and lethal amounts of chutzpah. And last week’s all-night partying extravaganza known as White Night once again allowed Tel Aviv’s youths to showcase their drinking prowess.

Problem is, the adults aren’t much better – as recent events demonstrate. But let’s return to that later.Feeling the heat and spurred on by a subconscious urge to “get out of the kitchen,” I’ve found myself escaping with increased frequency to more sympathetic climes. I employ the term “sympathetic climes” with regard to weather only, because the phrase doesn’t exactly spring to mind when referring to Hebron or Bet Jala, two of the places where I sought refuge from Tel Aviv this past month.

But even in those places, Tel Avivians managed to track me down. I spent Shabbat in Bet Jala for a coexistence seminar in which the majority of Israelis in attendance hailed from the coastal city. (Although, having said that, one can never be sure because at these types of events many of the people who claim to live in Tel Aviv are actually from Givatayim or Ramat Gan, which despite their proximity, have less in common with Tel Aviv than even Bet Jala.) Either way, the Tel Avivians present were sweet, intelligent people who genuinely want to see change. It saddened me that there were only three Jerusalemites representing the holy city – and only one of them was Jewish.

The Tel Avivians I met in Hebron were a whole different kind of animal. On a routine tour of the city of our forefathers, my group was suddenly accosted by a horde of activists who were marching through Shuhada Street – the main road in the Jewish quarter that is also known as King David Street. The activists – all women – were supposed to be dressed as Palestinians but their costumes looked like little more than a mockery of traditional Arab garb. They wore Yemenite-style kaftans embroidered with pretty flowers while their heads were adorned with funky sunglasses and those tea-towel keffiyehs that have become the uniform of choice for those who hope to somehow alleviate Palestinian suffering.

The activists were from a group that calls itself “Youth Against Settlement” and, being that they were mostly blonde, I was convinced that they all came from those bored European countries like Denmark or Norway. So I was surprised when I heard Hebrew being spoken among some of them. I asked the women where they were from and after answering that they were from Tel Aviv, they turned the question around to me. Scratch that; I lie. The actual question posed was, “Are you a settler?” The word “settler” was dripping with venom and I felt as though I’d been asked, “Are you a terrorist?”

I answered that in spite of my flowing skirt (the uniform of choice for “evil occupiers”), I, too, was from Tel Aviv. This relaxed them somewhat and my adding that I was a journalist was the golden ticket they needed to launch into a diatribe about the tremendous importance of their altruistic anarchy. I’m not exactly sure how lying on the ground and screaming like a banshee while soldiers pin you down and cameras snap pictures that tell a thousand out-of-context words is supposed to help the Palestinian plight, but what do I know of such things?

Whatever. The question remains: What is it with Tel Avivians, the hot weather and anarchic penchants? Back home, the weather seems to have turned the city’s denizens into madmen. Last month’s race riots in the south of the city were nothing short of an abomination. The rioters – though small in number – hurled bottles and sticks and even firecrackers at policemen in the Hatikva neighborhood. They held up signs with slogans like, “Infiltrators, leave our home” and “Yishai was right.” The behavior of government officials wasn’t much better (did someone say "cancer-gate?") While I don’t deny that the country does not exactly need the additional burden of caring for African migrants, there is still no excuse for this kind of outcry. Furthermore, I take issue with the misnomer “infiltrators” and I only wish the media would stop bandying it about like it’s a legitimate term for refuge-seekers.

And then there’s Social Justice Version 2.0. Please excuse my cynicism, but Amos Oz’s description of the social-justice demonstrations as being “a delightful revival of mutual fraternity and commitment” seems absurdly misplaced when one considers the images of violent clashes between police and demonstrators that were plastered all over last week’s papers. I wasn’t there, but reading the news reports makes me think that Rothschild Boulevard had turned into a schoolyard for the day, with protesters and police alike claiming “it wasn’t me.”

It seems that as a result of Mayor Ron Huldai’s treachery (apparently by using City hall as a “detention center”), coupled with his silence regarding the police violence, dozens of art galleries, bands and other participants of White Night pulled out of the event. The morning after White Night, I read the following headline, which made me laugh out loud: “Hundreds of protesters took to the street in protest at recent police violence against protesters.”

Repetition, much? In its eternal quest to find the cleverest play on words for such scuffles, the media were quick to bill the event as “Black Night.” Ah, the media. Always acting in the role of troublemaker… a veritable Iago goading on the passions of the populace with punchy headlines and pithy puns, rubbing its hands in glee, thinking, “Whatever will they do next?” Seriously, what can author Etgar Keret and other champions of the White Night boycott possibly hope to have gained by refusing to participate in the annual balagan-fest? And what, for goodness’ sake, is the connection between White Night and social justice? Moreover, maybe the police had indeed reacted with “disproportionate” force, but what of those protesters who smashed windows and broke into banks? I was all for the social-justice protests last year, even leaving my bubble in Jerusalem to join the Million Man March. Marching to Hamedina Square, hippies in tow, rental contract stuck on my back with the monthly rent highlighted in neon yellow… It felt good and I felt proud to be a part of it. Yalla, let’s revel in the rare feeling of community spirit, let’s get our voices heard, let’s put on a united front for something other than war for once. But something seems to have gone horribly awry in the last 12 months; now we have a war on capitalism that is little more than hooliganism in justice’s clothing.

Whither are we bound, Tel Aviv? Maybe Daphni Leef, social-justice guru extraordinaire (who, incidentally, was also among those arrested during last week’s protests) has some idea. Perhaps she believes that Israel is on the fast track to becoming a banana republic.

No doubt she’d prefer it to be a cottage-cheese republic.

The point is that there has to be another way to deal with this insufferable heat. Surely we can put our fired-up passions to better use than throwing tantrums and Molotov cocktails, right? Just a thought.

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