Antisocial protests

The social protest ringleaders exposed their motives and thereby alienated Mr. and Ms. Average Israeli.

Social justice protest against police violence in TA 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Social justice protest against police violence in TA 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The attempts to revive the moribund social protests by any means led to inevitable clashes with the law in Tel Aviv last Friday and Saturday. These altercations couldn’t conceivably have been unforeseen given the blocking of major traffic arteries, vandalizing of bank branches and insistence on re-erecting illegal tent cities in public spaces.
The friction surprised no one. It likely was the desired effect, the spark that was aimed at reigniting the lost excitement.
Yet thereby the organizers – who so unexpectedly managed to dominate our streets and public discourse last summer – managed just as astoundingly to sabotage their own cause in one reckless weekend. They seemed to have lost sight of the secret to their success yesteryear.
That secret was ambiguity. As long as they weren’t politically identifiable and seemed to attract disparate segments of the population, they could claim to voice the disaffection of ordinary workaday Israelis who hanker after the good life.
The nonsectarian, apolitical appeal drew crowds of participants to their camp-ins and mass outdoor happenings, replete with celebrity entertainment and media hoopla.
Their populist events became good fun, to which to take the kids and demand higher living standards. It was all ostensibly mainstream, the in-thing, nothing overly controversial and certainly not confrontational or violent.
This all-inclusiveness may have been misleading but it was magic, because all sorts of diverse folks were made to feel they belonged and were speaking for the majority of their compatriots. It may all have been a cunning façade but it was hard to prove that the multitudes were manipulated.
After this past weekend, though, it’s no longer hard. The ringleaders had exposed their motives and thereby alienated Mr. and Ms. Average Israeli.
This doesn’t mean that the demonstrations are dead and gone. They may well return, whether violently or more calmly, but they won’t replicate the everyman ambiance that was lost Saturday night. Whatever occurs now will bear a clear political tint.
It may well be that a hodgepodge of groups will back the provocations or opportunistically egg them on and hope to reap political profits from them. But whether future protests are fueled by zealous anarchists or a more garden variety of socialists, they will be grasped as left wing and outside the consensus.
However the ensuing protests evolve, they will become radicalized – something with which the decidedly non-radical middle class would feel less and less disposed to identify.
Nobody wishes to become a useful fool in the service of narrow political interests. Nobody wants to feel used.
The Israeli public is altogether remarkably disinclined to doing battle with law enforcers. It’s unforgiving toward those who do.
Thus, no matter how justified some settler protests may have appeared, interference with the flow of traffic and fisticuffs with the police (regardless of who was more brutish) generated antagonistic responses.
That’s why Ulpana residents – evicted this week from legally purchased homes due to possible bureaucratic errors not of their own making – were wary of resorting to force.
It would indeed serve us well to ponder how public opinion and the press would have reacted had distressed Ulpana dwellers swooped down on Tel Aviv, halted traffic, smashed storefront windows and sparred with the police.
Just as such action would lose aggrieved settlers sympathy, so it estranges the masses from what are hyped as social justice protests.
Even if last weekend’s disturbances weren’t calculated provocations, as per the denials of the protest orchestrators, they isolated themselves and forfeited the solidarity of the politically uninvolved center. The bulk of last year’s summertime protesters turned out because they felt part of Israel’s middle-of-the-road majority, because they could bask in the implied commonality and camaraderie without losing control and risking or inflicting bodily harm.
Shrill slogans to bring down the government and the system, and blows exchanged with cops (and, again, it doesn’t really matter who started it and who was more brutish), relegate the campaign to the political fringe and distance it from the mainstream. The middle class semblance of the antecedent demonstrations has now been undone.