Social Justice leaders mull political involvement

Despite original vows to stay out of electoral politics, leaders of social protest movement reconsider their strategy.

Daphni Leef at social protest 521 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Daphni Leef at social protest 521
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Leaders of the social justice movement say they are prepared to take a step toward entering the political arena in light of the upcoming elections.
Since the start of the movement in the summer of 2011, its leaders have made clear that they wished to stay a social initiative for the Israeli people and remain disconnected from politics.
With elections due in January, however, the opportunity to influence decision-making at the parliamentary level seems to be gaining popularity among the movement’s leaders.
Yonatan Levy, one of the main organizers of the summer 2011 protests, said on Thursday he was convinced that building a party was the necessary next step for the social cause: “The last year and a half has proven to us that if we are not in the political sphere, it doesn’t really matter how many people we will get to come out to the streets,” he said. “At the end of the day, the decisions are made in the political system. There is an urgent need for people who participate in the movement and people who identify with it, especially young people, to enter the political arena.”
The movement leaders, including Daphni Leef, who was one of the initiators of the July 2011 protests, organized a “respect for citizens” demonstration in Tel Aviv on Thursday to “remind elected officials that election day is a day for the voters.”
She continued on the Facebook page created for the event, “We will examine what each party has promised and has held since the last election! We will examine how all members of the Knesset voted on socioeconomic issues such as housing, employment, minimum wage, and more.”
Liron Achdut, a social activist, said members of the movement were discussing founding a political party, but had not made a decision: “The downside of going into politics is that it’s something that demands a lot of time and effort and we don’t want it to be at the expense of our activities on the social field,” she said. “What is for sure is that the movement is going to look different with these elections.”
Itzik Smuli, the head of the National Union of Israeli Students who has led the demonstrations since they began, had been approached by several political parties in the past year, who have tried to rally him to their activities.
“I was the only one who always said that we have an obligation to always combine the street movement with influence on the political arena. We can’t do only one of those things, both are equally important,” Smuli said.
He also said that he had not yet made a decision about his involvement. Rumors have also circulated about Stav Shafir, another leader of the movement, running for a seat in the Knesset with the Labor Party.
“I think the upcoming elections are a turning point for the social movement, in the sense that we need to complete the process,” Smuli explained, “We have two big challenges for these elections: first to make sure there is a dramatic increase in the number of voters, especially young people, and second to make sure that the leading agenda is socioeconomic and not something else.”
Levy said he saw many of the protests’ leaders as capable of running political activity related to the movement: “I’m assuming that in the next few days we will discover who will join the political system, but from the people who work with the movement there are many names that I would be happy to support,” he said.