You have to hand it to the tent city protesters: From their extremely humble
abodes on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, Jerusalem’s “Horse Park” and
elsewhere, they have made their voices known.
This is no longer a
Facebook revolution start-up but a face-down for (much needed) social
They have even managed to put together a (pretty reasonable) list
of requests. This includes: free day care from the age of three months; halting
privatization of the health, education and welfare systems; creating more
apartments for long-term rent or affordable purchase; greater financial
assistance for housing; and less VAT.
The middle class has united,
although it’s not quite clear behind whom.
Among the most important
lessons I learned in my schooldays, long ago, was the problems of leadership.
One wintry day – particularly cold even by London standards – the window in our
classroom broke. I was appointed by my classmates as the representative who
should ask the principal that it be fixed, as we were having trouble
concentrating during lessons. Actually, some of us were having trouble stopping
our teeth from chattering.
I set off on my own down the long corridor
(which probably to this day echoes with the call: “No running, girls!”). Along
the way I was joined, or at least trailed, by an ever-growing number of pupils,
each urging me to raise another demand (that we be allowed to wear trousers
rather than skirts during the cold spell; that we be allowed home early; and
other conditions which I’ve forgotten).
By the time I had reached the
principal’s office there was quite a crowd – I think her word was “rabble” –
some of whom probably had no idea of my original mission.
“What are all
you girls doing here?” asked Miss Frearson in her most English-headmistressy
voice, and at once they all disappeared, surprisingly fast, considering the
“Why did you bring so many girls with you to my office?”
asked the headmistress when we were alone. I explained that it had been
something like a snowball effect.
“Aah,” sighed the former history
teacher. “Let that be a lesson to you.
When you start a revolution, you
never know who will join you on the way, or what the end result will
I don’t remember if we got the window fixed that day, but Miss
Frearson’s warning has remained with me.
That’s why, with all my sympathy
for the original aims of the tent-city protesters, I wonder where it is heading
and what will happen on the way.
Clearly, revolutions are easier when
they focus not only on one issue but also on one clear and common
At the moment, the Israeli protesters are dividing their attention
among many topics – housing, education, the fate of the striking doctors, and
conditions of those employed through manpower agencies in the public
All issues with which I can identify.
But during last
week’s debate on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s expedited construction
program, Miss Frearson’s words came back to me with particular force. On the one
hand, the protesters have created an atmosphere which the prime minister could
not afford to ignore; on the other, it has led to a law which, while
facilitating the building of more housing, is likely to have social and
environmental implications that will have the next generation out on the streets
in protests, too.
The common enemy appears to be Netanyahu, although I
suspect that it is not Netanyahu of 2011, rather it is the Netanyahu who
spearheaded the privatization process during his first term in office in the
That’s why I was more irritated than surprised to hear opposition
leader Tzipi Livni so shrilly heckling the premier.
The official Knesset
website still lists her first important position in the category of public
activities as head of the Government Companies Authority (1996-1999), “in charge
of the privatization of government corporations and monopolies.” Not a follower,
but appointed by Netanyahu himself to be an active participant in the
outsourcing obsession which led to a decline in basic social services, salaries
and conditions, and the loss of national assets.
I was also not surprised
to hear Livni call for the Knesset summer recess to be canceled in view of the
social unrest. But I don’t remember then-foreign minister Livni calling for the
recess to be canceled five years ago, when Lebanon II broke out on Kadima’s
Whatever has been going on in Israel these past few weeks, it is
not war. On the contrary, past experience shows that during wartime,
demonstrations are not about social issues, and the atmosphere in protest tents
is not of a sleep-away summer camp.
Tahrir is not here, thank heavens,
because the situation of the middle class in Israel is not like that of the
For a start, we’ve been free to protest all
I am also concerned by what I have come to think of as the
Frearson Principle in this case, too. Demanding the removal of Hosni Mubarak,
without considering who – and what kind of regime – is going to replace him was
the easy part. Mubarak’s sickbed show trial might make some Egyptians feel
better, but it’s not going to cure all the country’s social ills.
can Israelis’ economic woes be compared to those of, say, Greeks, rioting just
across the Mediterranean.
And might I note that the growing number of
middle-class Israelis who travel to the Greek islands on vacation, boycotting
belligerent Turkey, cannot be considered completely needy.
The economy is
doing even better than America’s (although the state of the economy there should
have set off certain warning bells, and didn’t, for a free-market fanatic like
All is not collapsing.
When I mentioned the Cottage
Cheese Rebellion to a New Zealandbased journalist in an e-mail last week, he
amiably replied: “Down here it’s the price of milk that’s upset a few
We have a country – free but not cheap – with its own peculiar
problems, but I’m always wary of slogans containing catch-all terms like “The
People,” particularly when combined with a verb like “demand.”
chanted by a crowd which has no idea whom it is following, even the chant:
“Ha’am doresh tzedek hevrati,” “The People demand social justice,” sounds
Priorities need to be changed – but that includes, also, the
priorities and expectations of the middle class itself.
social order and creating a fairer society is necessary. Changing the government
is also a possibility – but for that we have elections. Seeking free-for-all,
instant gratification is the way to anarchy, not a better society.
the Frearson Principle in mind, I would caution those who seek a revolution that
you never know what the end result will be. True change takes time and planning.
And government reforms cost money, which has to come from somewhere – dream on
if you think it will be from the deep pockets of a local tycoon.
social protests are an important step; I just hope they’re heading in the right
direction. And, by the way, even in the corridors of power, it’s not wise to
run.The writer is editor of
The International Jerusalem Post.