Reporter's Notebook: 'Return’ of the 2011 protests

There is a familiar vibe that was long past, but little reason for Finance Minister Yair Lapid to worry.

Social justice protest 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Social justice protest 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Saturday night, for the first time since last summer, at least a half a dozen satellite vans parked at the square outside Habimah National Theater in Tel Aviv to broadcast from the start of a “social justice” march.
The protest was billed as the reboot of the summer 2011 social justice protests which overnight became a bona fide national phenomenon, and there was a feeling that the turnout would determine if July 2011 had in fact returned.
It was the first time the movement, or the remnants thereof, managed to spur such public interest or media attention in quite a long time, and many of those present were obviously thrilled with the result, if only because for months every protest had been a failed and largely ignored bust.
For a few hours on Saturday night, the protests of the summer of 2011 were back, with many of the same faces, including two – Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli – who now serve as MKs with the Labor Party.
Many of the chants were the same and there was the old familiar feeling of a free- for-all of discontent pulsating through the street, making up for a lack of direction with healthy heaps of conviction.
Nonetheless, if Saturday night’s protests in Tel Aviv and elsewhere were any indication of the public’s dismay with Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s budget proposal, Lapid shouldn’t fret too much about the political repercussions of the budget for his party, and shouldn’t worry too much about his chances of being the next prime minister.
If the “successful” turnout of 10,000 is all that organizers and supporters can muster against a suddenly reviled finance minister and budget cutbacks that are being portrayed as a blow to the very middle class that was the supposed backbone of the protests of 2011, then Lapid – whose success in the recent election is largely credited to the middle-class discontent stirred by the 2011 protests – should be able to sleep soundly in Ramat Aviv.
The summer 2011 protests will be analyzed for years, with the real result or gains (or losses) to a large extent in the eye of the beholder. What is impossible to deny is that they captivated the public, especially for the first month and a half or so, after which it became a constant matter of maintaining momentum for a public movement without leaders or a specific, clear set of political goals and ethos.
Eventually, the public moved on, the people went to the polls long after the protests fizzled out, and if you ask most Israelis, little if anything changed – at least when it comes to the cost of living.
Since then, the only times that the movement was able to grasp the public’s attention were June 23 last year, when 85 protesters were arrested after a night of protesting in central Tel Aviv during which the windows of three bank branch windows were smashed and the Ayalon Freeway was temporarily blocked – and on July 14, at the first anniversary protests, when Moshe Silman of Haifa set himself on fire in Tel Aviv, taking his own life.
Violence and tragedy were able to stir the public’s interest around the story, but it appears they have long since moved on.
On Saturday night there was a familiar glimpse of a summer fling of two years back, but unless the movement becomes violent or establishes a charismatic and devoted leadership and a political mission, it will fail to regain the spotlight, and will probably be doomed to remain a nostalgic summer memory