The tents may be down, but the social issues remain

Expert: Trajtenberg findings likely to rekindle mass protests.

Trajtenberg Committee 'Rothschild Team' 311  (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Trajtenberg Committee 'Rothschild Team' 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Three days after Israel witnessed its largest-ever social protests with more than 400,000 people taking to the streets to demand improved economic and living conditions, there seemed to be a sense reflected in the media that the entire episode was coming to a close.
Most of the morning papers Wednesday no longer featured social issues as their leads, favoring instead reports on the deteriorating relations with Turkey, or the typical scandals involving politicians and army generals.
The winding down of social justice demonstrations, which have grabbed headlines and gripped public discourse throughout the summer months, seemed further evident as the only reports relating to the protests were of Tel Aviv municipal workers removing tents and beginning the cleaning up of the student movement’s headquarters on Rothschild Boulevard and other streets around the city.
In other places too, the tents were being dismantled.
However, while this phase of the protests, which started in Tel Aviv on July 14 when a group of students pitched a tent on the central thoroughfare to air their grievances over rising housing costs, might now have ended, those leading the movement said a new phase is now beginning.
“Every major long-term campaign needs to know how to lower the flame for a time in order to stay relevant in the long run,” commented Bar-Ilan University Prof. Sam Lehman-Wilzig, who has authored two books on social protests in Israel.
Lehman-Wilzig, from the Department of Political Science, said he did not believe this was the end of the road for the so-called J-14 movement and highlighted that despite the seeming lull, the protests would most likely come back at full strength over the next few months as the Trajtenberg Committee – appointed by the government last month to examine ways to implement socioeconomic change – prepares to present its findings at the end of September.
“Depending on its conclusion, mass protests are likely to resume,” said Lehman- Wilzig. “There will either be major joy or protests that the committee did not do its job properly.”
The professor also pointed to the second, follow-up phase, as the committee attempts to implement some of its socioeconomic recommendations.
“There will be continued pressure on the government to see what it will actually do on the ground, if there will be real change,” he said, highlighting that if the last seven weeks of social protests has achieved anything it is to push social issues to the forefront of public consciousness.
Indeed, the philosophical discussion on how Israel’s economy will best benefit its citizens does seem to be continuing in some media, with the publication of a Finance Ministry report showing that the country’s economy is controlled by a very small number of companies. The report in Haaretz on Wednesday showed that as this economic concentration grows, the workforce is being less and less compensated, with low wages going to employees of the large conglomerates and salaries between senior executives and others widening all the time.
This kind of revelation could cause damage to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s dream of a neocapitalist economy where the wealth eventually filters down to society’s middle and lower class sectors.
“This report could bring some serious and significant reforms on how the economy is run,” observed Lehman-Wilzig, adding, “This government is not capitalist, only Bibi is – but really, his main goal is being reelected.”
He continued: “One of the biggest criticisms of Bibi is that he is too attuned to public attitudes and he realizes that if he is not forthcoming with real changes then he will not be reelected. If he wants to stay in power then he needs to see these changes through.”