The tents on Rothschild Boulevard are finally being taken down. I can''t say I''m sorry to see them go, though they did give me something to gripe about. It''s like the morning after the big party. We''re all scratching our heads in the sunlight.
The tent protests offered us a flashpoint, a collected expression of our anger. But in this they were also another manifestation of the larger problem. We saw that we have anger and we have demands (though I''m not sure we needed tents to show us that), but we did not see the thing we need most: political process. The trenchant shouts of the tent protesters, as momentarily inspiring as they were, became the popular equivalent of the intractable deafness of the politicians.
We, like the protesters themselves, got stuck in those tents. We began to argue about the methods, who would represent what, if the protests help or hinder. We even argued about what we really want.
But the one thing we did collectively pinpoint was the concentration of wealth and power in this country. From the most humble tenter to the chief of the Bank of Israel, we all cried out against the consortium of power that runs this country.
In Israel, they are known as the branja, the elite. There is a bit of lore about them, but generally the understanding is that a small number of families control a disproportionate amount of wealth in Israel.
Economists compare the structure of these families'' holding company-based businesses to pyramid schemes, in that one holding company uses its shares to buy a second company, which does the same for a third, etc. Daniel Doron of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress told the New York Times that, “Today, the whole Israeli economy is built on rapacious elites fleecing consumers.”
But limiting the conversation to wealth doesn''t do the branja justice. They are not so stupid as to let their assets be subject to the whims of government regulation, media oversight, or democratic sentiment. So, individuals or families own supermarket chains, telecomm companies, financial institutions and, often, newspapers in parallel. Not a few have a scion or two choicely placed in government institutions, in some cases even the Knesset.
Imagine a scenario, which is in fact not imaginary, where Israeli citizens are being bilked not by a telecomm company, but by the entire telecomm industry. Owners of the major telecomm companies also happen to own controlling stakes in newspapers.
When the government chooses not to protect these consumers (by whatever mysterious rites and rituals the government actually operates), where can the citizenry turn? Not to the media, which is largely owned by the same people fleecing them for cellphone minutes. You simply have to suck it up, as I''ve pointed out, or find yourself a neat little workaround known as a combina. This is the final injustice, that the system forces, or to be more objective, heavily encourages you to become a part of it. It leaves you with few good options, other than to buy in.
The tent protests showed us that unity is possible, though not easy. What we need now is a continuing process that builds from this moment of unity. My own belief is that beginning by trying to get the government to satisfy our various demands is folly. We should all realize by now that Israel needs global change. Not to mention the fact that''s it''s all too easy for the powers that be to provide temporary, palliative measures that can quiet the masses but do nothing to actually change the situation.
Rather, we have to begin with transparency. The branja have been able to do what they''ve done because no one was really looking. But in the age of Google searches, Facebook connectability, and wiki-style collaboration, the citizenry can finally take the initiative.
This is why I propose the launch of something I call WikiBranja -- a dedicated wiki that exposes the personal connections between elites within government, media, and finance. These connections can be easily found in the news and with very little research. They need not be illegal to be noted. The important thing is for us to know that we''re paying attention and them to know that we''re watching.
What Israel needs is not a redistribution of wealth, as many of the protesters were calling for, but a redistribution of power. An initiative like WikiBranja can help us take the first step.