‘Be Young and Proud’

D’’ash interviews protest leader Daphni Leef.

Daphni Leef (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Daphni Leef
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Last summer, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated across Israel as part of the country’s largest social protest movement in its history. People from all political backgrounds participated in this broad movement that addressed the increasing costs of living in Israel, including housing prices.
At the biggest day of protests, approximately 300,000 people protested in Tel Aviv alone, and Tel Aviv’s population is only around 400,000 people.
Additionally, the protests were led by many young people. In fact, the protest officially began when Daphni Leef, a 25-year-old film maker, was evicted from her apartment in Tel Aviv. She was unable to afford another apartment in the area because renting prices had increased so much. Having no affordable options to stay, she decided to protest the costs of housing herself. She created a Facebook protest page, pitched a tent on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, and encouraged others to join her. Hours afterwards, she was joined by hundreds of residents who were also angry about how expensive housing was. This is where the summer’s protests began.
While many residents in Israel agree with her objectives, there is a large group of people who criticize her. There are people who wonder how much she understands the system she wants to change. Many people believe that she tried to tackle too many issues at the same time, without trying to work with the government to implement the changes. Other people, seeing support from leftist groups, think she has purely political motives.
I was able to meet with Daphni Leef recently to learn how the protest became so successful. We met in a popular, crowded coffee shop, about one block from where she pitched her first tent. During our interview she was constantly networking and greeting people coming in and out. She was very friendly, and was open about her past and how she feels six months into her cause.
D’’ash: What inspired you to start the tent protest?
Daphni: Most of all, it was taking control over my life. I started looking for an apartment and I kind of understood that everything is so expensive... I started crunching the numbers and understood that in six months, I’m going to be on the street. So I decided it was bound to happen anyway, I might as well do it on my terms and make a statement… D’’ash: Were you surprised by the outcome of that decision? Daphni: Nobody could have expected such a blast that started.
D’’ash: So you pitched a tent because of your fears for the future concerning the high cost of living. How has leading the protest changed your life since then?
Daphni: I have no privacy… I get a lot of criticism from people I do not know. Also, I am so incredibly committed to this that I have not been working in a really long time. I don’t have any income… it’s not good. Stay in school kids! (She chuckles.) But you know what… I don’t think that it matters in the long term. You need to be committed to change if you want change. You need to break some eggs.
D’’ash: What advice would you give to young people around the world who are engaged in similar protests, or who may want to protest?
Daphni: Two parts: One, don’t be crippled by your age. Young people these days know a lot.
With the web, tools like Facebook and Twitter, and the accessibility of so much information we know a lot. It’s all about how we use this information. Be young and proud, because you know something about the world.
Two, take risks. A lot of teenagers are afraid to take risks because they don’t want to do something embarrassing. You will see that every icon became an icon because they decided to pronounce their unique voice and be proud of that. I was picked on a lot as a teenager, in middle school and everything. I can say, as long as you know who you are, be proud of your ideas and go with them! That’s what matters.
D’’ash: In the future, do you plan on becoming a politician, or do you have other goals?
Daphni: I fell in love with filmmaking when I was 10 and that is my dream.
I am part of this movement because you can’t express yourself if all you can think about is how you are going to manage tomorrow. That is the idea behind having a horizon.
Not only having just a place to put your head, but having the space and time to create ideas... I don’t want to be a politician, but I think we as citizens must take responsibility, and be much more involved in the process.
I WAS personally surprised by her answers. I had believed she fell into a typical box of leftism. On the contrary, she didn’t mention politics during our interview at all.
Instead, she presented her case, as an average young woman, struggling to change the system in Israel. She did not want to change the political system from right to left, but change it so that people in Israel can have the basics in housing while pursuing their interests. I understood that this fight is not just for her, but for everyone like her who has a dream and is struggling to make it happen.
While many people don’t agree with the way in which she is conducting the protest, at least one thing can be taken from our brief conversation: If you feel something should be changed where you live, you are probably not alone. Speak up about what you feel, and who knows; you may make a huge difference.