Rabin Square in Tel Aviv has seen many demonstrations, but none quite like last Saturday’s.
It has nothing to do with the event, which gave the square its name: the huge rally for peace at the end of which Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. It was different in every respect.
It was a joyous occasion. Dozens of NGOs, many of them small, some of them slightly larger, each with a different agenda, came together in an effort to restart last year’s social protest. But it was not a continuation of last year’s Israeli Spring by any means.
Last year’s upheaval was quite unplanned. A young woman, Daphni Leef, could not pay her rent and so she put up a small tent in Rothschild Boulevard, five minutes’ walk from Rabin Square. She had obviously struck a chord, because within days hundreds of tents had sprung up in the boulevard and all over the country. It ended in a huge demonstration, called the “March of Half a Million”, which led to the setting up of a government commission, which made a list of suggestions to relieve social injustice. Only a small fraction of them were put into practice.
The whole effort called itself “apolitical”, rebuffed politicians of all stripes, and resolutely refused to deal with any national problem such as peace (what’s that?), occupation, settlements and such.
All decisions were made by an anonymous leadership grouped around Daphni. Some of the names became known, others did not. The masses who took part were quite content to accept their dictates. No more. This year’s new initiative has no obvious leadership at all. There was no central tribune, no central speakers. It resembled London’s Hyde Park Corner, where anyone can climb on a chair and preach his or her gospel. Each group had its own stand where its flyers were displayed, each had its own name, its own agenda, its own speakers and its own guides (since we should not call them leaders).
Since the square is big and the audience amounted to some thousands, it worked. Many different — and some contradictory — versions of social justice were advocated, from a group called “Revolution of Love” (everybody should love everybody) to a group of anarchists (all governments are bad, elections are bad too).
They all agreed only on one point: They were all “apolitical”, all shrank back from the taboo subjects.
Gideon Levy called the scene “chaotic” and was immediately attacked by the protesters as lacking understanding (with a hint that he was too old to understand.) Chaos is wonderful. Chaos is real democracy. It gives the people their voice back. There are no leaders who steal and exploit the protest for their own careers and egos. It’s the way the New Generation expresses itself.
It all reminded me of a happy period — the 60s of the last century, when almost none of this week’s protesters was yet born, or even “in the planning stage”‘ (as Israelis like to put it).
(NOTE BY THE EDITOR: If you are not careful you might miss the two most important paragraphs on the end of the article:)
But somewhere along the route there lurks an iceberg.
Israel is heading toward an iceberg, bigger than any of those in the path of the Titanic. It is not hidden. All its parts are clearly visible from afar. Yet we are sailing straight toward it, full steam ahead. If we don’t change course, the State of Israel will destroy itself — turning first into an apartheid-state monster from the Mediterranean to the Jordan, and later, perhaps, into a bi-national Arab-majority state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.
Does this mean that we must give up the struggle for social justice? Certainly not. The fight for social solidarity, for better education, for improved medical services, for the poor and the handicapped, must go on, every day, every hour. But to be successful this struggle must be a part — politically and ideologically — of the wider struggle for the future of Israel, for ending the occupation, for peace.
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