Can cottage cheese, tents snowball into early elections?

Analysis: Protests have a habit of transforming into wider political developments, even if it wasn’t the protesters’ initial goal.

Tel Aviv housing prices tent protest 58 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Tel Aviv housing prices tent protest 58
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
As the camera frame widened behind Channel 2’s reporter at the tent protest in Tel Aviv during Sunday’s nightly news, a young, secular Tel Aviv resident in a T-shirt and jeans happened to walk by.
He looked just like many of the other protesters who are upset about the high cost of rent in the center of the country.
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But don’t expect him to rent a tiny studio apartment in Givatayim any time soon.
He was Eldad Yaniv, one of the country’s most successful lawyers, who has represented many public figures in white-collar cases, including former prime ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak, and is now the attorney of one of the women who is accusing former president Moshe Katsav of rape.
Yaniv wrote on his Facebook page: “From tonight I am sleeping with the Israeliness and the wonderful Israelis in a tent on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. I have an apartment, and what I deserve everyone deserves.”
The protesters deserve that the face of their protest will be an authentic, needy student with a sad story to tell, and not a top-flight lawyer who formed a political movement and has a clear personal agenda against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
If Eldad Yaniv ends up leading the protest, if it is perceived as a left-wing movement and not a universal one, and if protesters make the mistake of attacking a socioeconomically minded MK, as one did by throwing water on Miri Regev over the weekend, they have little chance of success.
But if they play their cards right, they could succeed in reaching their goals, at least as well as the cottage-cheese protesters did a few weeks ago.
National Security Council head Uzi Dayan, who led successful protests for Holocaust survivors’ benefits, the security barrier and a commission of inquiry into the failures of the Second Lebanon War, said the protesters for lower rent needed three things to succeed: a simple explanation of the problem, an effective strategy and a clear enemy.
The last of the three may be the hardest to come by. Is their enemy a government that is trying to steamroll bureaucracy-busting housing reforms through the Knesset? Is it the owners of apartments in Tel Aviv who can justify astronomical rents under the laws of supply and demand?
Is it US President Barack Obama – as National Union MK Uri Ariel suggested – for preventing construction in Judea and Samaria?
For the protesters to succeed, rather than spending their evenings enjoying complimentary concerts from sympathetic rock stars, they should be working on an alternative solution to the housing crisis that they could unite behind.
If they are able to do that and stay out of politics, they might not only achieve their goals but also ironically make Netanyahu’s government a little less stable.
The more protests there are, the worse the government looks. The economy could look great on paper, but it is clear that more and more Israelis are growing increasingly frustrated.
Protests have a habit of snowballing into wider political developments, even if it wasn’t the protesters’ initial goal.
Netanyahu has every reason to fear that possibility even though his coalition looks firm.
Time will tell if the odd combination of cottage cheese, tent cities and whatever comes next eventually expedite elections.