Thousands mark 2-year anniversary of social protests in Tel Aviv, with new villain at center

Israelis try to recapture magic of 2011 protests; Yair Lapid, Binyamin Netanyahu blasted, compared with ousted Morsi.

July 13, 2013 23:37
4 minute read.
Social justice protesters in Tel Aviv carry sign reading "Bibi + Lapid = Morsi", July 13, 2013

Social justice protest Tel Aviv 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

Almost exactly two years to the night that Daphni Leef pitched a tent at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, launching the “social justice” protests that swept the country, she joined a few thousand supporters to mark the anniversary with marches across central Tel Aviv.

The marches bore many of the same familiar slogans – “the people demand social justice” and “we reject the tycoon state” – but as opposed to two years ago, the central villain – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – seems to have been replaced largely by Finance Minister Yair Lapid. The former journalist and TV personality, who is seen as having rode the coattails of the social protests to his strong showing in the January elections, was the subject of dozens of placards and one oft-repeated slogan – “go back to being a TV anchor!” In recent months, Lapid’s house has been the site of repeated protests against his budget and the economic policies he has advanced as finance minister.

As in the early days of the “J14” protests, which drew some inspiration from the Arab Spring, Netanyahu’s name appeared on a handful of protest banners next to an Arab strongman – this time recently ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi. A few people in the crowd used the green laser pointers popular in the recent protests against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and during a speech on Kaplan Street, former “Black Panthers” leader Charlie Biton said, “We can learn from the Egyptians what a people who rises up can achieve!” The crowd on Kaplan looked to be a few thousand strong, a healthy showing, but a tiny fraction of the size of the mass Saturday night protests from the 2011 summer demonstrations. While at one protest in August 2011 an estimated 200,000 people crowded Kaplan Street and saw musician Shlomo Artzi and protest leaders sing and dance across a massive stage, on Saturday night a couple thousand people stood in front of a simple plywood stage smaller than a lottery booth, where other than Biton and Leef, no celebrities made appearances.

The protests in Tel Aviv were hyped on the Facebook event page as a return to the streets, a re-loading of the social protests that are widely believed to have achieved little in proportion to the number of people who took part in them.

One of the central figures of the 2011 protests, Regev Kontas, stood at Habima Square waiting for the march to begin Saturday night, giving premarch interviews as he did two summers before.

Kontas, whose documentary on the 2011 protests debuted on television this week, said the message of the protest on Saturday is that “the same problems are still here. The government changed but the people are still disappointed.

The people up top only understand numbers and we need to show them that even if we don’t have the same numbers that we had before, we aren’t going anywhere, and we must be heard.”

The protests also put a strong focus on the memory of Moshe Silman, the Haifa man in crippling debt who took his own life, setting himself on fire on July 14, 2012, at a protest to mark the first anniversary of the movement.

Tel Avivian Tom Preiss, 25, wore bandages around his face on Saturday, evoking a badly burned man, and held a sign reading “Bibi and Lapid burned me too.” Preiss said he saw in Silman’s story an example of the extreme cases of suffering and despair our government can take people to.”

He said: “Bibi and Lapid are burning all of us, they are taking people who weren’t at the bottom of the society and driving them to extremes.”

There were two protest marches on Saturday in Tel Aviv – one leaving from Hatikva Park in south Tel Aviv and another from Habima Square.

Both met on Kaplan, where next to the modest plywood stage, Leef joined a handful of speakers in delivering a familiar message of wanting change, but one tinged with a sentiment of promises forsaken.

“It’s been two years since we woke up and understood that they are robbing us of our country, of our future, and our ability to live in dignity,” said Leef.

“We don’t believe what you’re saying!” she said, addressing Lapid. “You rode on the back of the protests, you promised affordable housing.

Make it happen!” She spoke of Silman’s suicide, calling it a national tragedy, before saying that the 2011 protests “changed Israel, they reminded us that we are the country, and we will ensure that the [politicians] carry out their promises.

“People wake up and don’t give up, we’re right, and we are the country and we can’t give up,” Leef said, finishing her speech with a familiar chant about money, the criminal underworld and Israeli politicians, one first coined two years earlier at a protest much like this one.

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