(photo credit: ITZIK EDRI/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
In 2011, the streets of Israel were transformed into the stomping grounds of protesters from across the country fighting for social and economic justice.
The 2011 social protests, more commonly known as the “Tent Protest,” may have started with one tent on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard but it ended with 400,000 protesters on the streets. The protest was more than just a demonstration about the rising housing prices and the high cost of living. It was the first large demonstration in two decades that was not focused on security or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
When the protesters repeated their slogan “the nation demands social justice” it was more than just a motto, it was a reflection of the conceptual change that is occurring among Israelis who over time have become frustrated and tired of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and the “territory” that comes with it being the only subject or our national agenda.
For years many Israelis have felt that someone has put the country on pause.
Often, when I attempt to talk to a fellow Israeli about social problems like religion and state or economic problems like the housing crisis, I get the same answer: “first we have to take care of the conflict with the Palestinians” and “if there is no security there is no housing.”
But the conflict with the Palestinians is not going to be solved today, tomorrow, or the next day. While we have been busy worrying solely about settlements and terrorism, Amona and Elor Azaria, and more than anything sustaining a status quo that never should have been the status quo, we forgot about the country we’ve been protecting, the country we have been fighting for all these years, and not once did we stop to think about what kind of country would be left once the conflict has ended.
When asked about the illegal settlement in Amona, MK Eleazar Stern said, “Is Amona all you have on your minds? Israel will not stand or fall on the fate of the people of Amona – we have more serious matters to deal with.” We’ve repressed the country’s problems, we’ve let the conflict occupy our political conversation for too long and time and again we have pushed all our other challenges to the bottom of our to-do list.
Lately, however, we have started to see a change. The process started in 2011 but the change was also reflected in the previous election. Not only did we have two centrist parties (Yesh Atid and Kulanu), who both defined themselves by their strong social and economic focus, but in addition the Zionist Union understood that the more the conversation focuses around the economy, the greater the number of their mandates, which resulted in a grueling attempt to pull the conversation in that direction.
Netanyahu is a seasoned politician and knew how to play on the fears of the voters, who quickly ran back to “Mr. Security,” but despite that, change is in the air.
Electing Benjamin Netanyahu may have been a result of security considerations, but it’s important to recognize that on a practical level he is no different on this front from any of the other serious candidates in the opposition. After all, both the Likud and Labor parties accept the two-state solution and furthermore, Zionist Union leader Issac Herzog even declared that the two-state solution is not viable given the current situation. Maybe because of this unique consensus we can start including the other challenges threatening our country in the national dialogue and begin reconstructing and rehabilitating the political conversation.
Currently, our politicians are addicts, addicted to using the conflict for political gain, and it is this addiction that has created the distorted political conversation in our country that revolves around fear, and fear is something that can be cast into any mold – its current shape is Netanyahu.
Despite the despondent political climate, there is reason for hope. In the Knesset there are a minority who see the problems we are facing and are attempting to make changes. According to the Social Guard Index, the title “Most Socially Active” was awarded to Itzik Shmuly from the Labor Party, who by no coincidence was also a prominent leader of the 2011 social protests.
In addition to that, recent surveys show a growing power surge for Yesh Atid, that while advocating an economic system that closely resembles that of Netanyahu at least seems to have understood that social and economic issues are equally as important as the grave threats we face. Although there are no guarantees in politics, this shift in the Israeli voters’ priorities provides a glimmer of hope.
It doesn’t have to be a choice between a stable and strong education system and ending terrorism. We can deal with the rabbinate’s monopoly on religion while defending ourselves.
Furthermore, the next election can and should include the multitude of challenges facing our country without having Netanyahu scaring more voters in his direction.
Large blocs of voters should demand more than an empty security promise from their candidate. The fact that both major political parties are semi-aligned on many of our security issues (not in ideology but in practice) should allow us to take them on as a united front while at the same time, starting to deal with the other problems we have – and there are many.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is undoubtedly a big part of who we are as a nation, and our security has always been paramount and will continue to be so for a long time, but it is vital to remember that this is just part of who we are, and should not define us.
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