Tel Aviv’s status as a bubble of culture has been gaining recognition around the globe lately. Heralded as an oasis of tolerance, hedonism, prosperity and artistic vibrancy in contrast to the rest of Israel (perceived as being “less progressive” at best), it’s become increasingly safe for the world to raise a toast to the White City. Just ask Bob Simon from “60 Minutes.”
An all-night celebration of everything Tel Aviv has come to represent, the tenth annual White Night, which took place last night, was an appropriate exercise in self-conscious and manipulative contrasts. The non-stop cultural events, performances and partying in city plazas were originally conceived as a celebration of the White City’s recent coronation as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
But following last weekend’s violence between the police and the social protesters in Tel Aviv, a call to flip the 2012 White Night on its head was issued, and with the backing of cultural vanguard elements, the Black Night was born. A few hundred people, many marching with tents held above their heads instead of placards, called for the resignation of the mayor and more widespread sharing of free cultural fun between the city’s haves and have-nots. A picnic vigil was held in the Shapira neighborhood.
But in the city that never sleeps, the show must go on. Or something like that. Thousands still managed to enjoy the old-meets-new ballads of Karolina and Danny Sanderson at Hatzuk Beach, film screenings at the historic Eden Cinema, acrobats doing flips at the Jaffa Flea Market, the imported live rock of Nouvelle Vague in Bialik Square, ballroom dancing at the Opera House, a silent dance party in Rabin Square, folk dancing on Gordon Beach, open jam sessions in the Jaffa Port, and more.
So we’ve got bubbles of enlightened revelry amid desserts of tumult, tents floating two meters off the ground, and the forces of White facing off against the forces of Black. And it’s not even July yet. This is making the summer of 2011 look like a walk on the beach.
Many Tel Avivians (and other Israelis — gasp!) made waves last summer with the Rothschild Boulevard Tent City and related social justice protests, calling amorphously for a new order that would be more fair to the working masses. The global Occupy movement, which gained momentum months after Rothschild had been squatted on, prompted the concept of “occupation” to be flipped on its head among progressive Israelis, once it became clear that occupation had suddenly become something to strive for. Placards calling us to “Occupy Tel Aviv, Not Palestine” followed, as an attempt to take back ownership of “occupation.”
While the jury’s still out on the lasting impact of the Tent City movement, it’s crystal clear that the summer of 2012 will not see a repeat of the tentative cooperation between the protesters and the “powers that be.” Lines have been drawn, war rooms convened, riot gear dusted, and symbolism commandeered.
Of course, these issues are far more grounded in posturing than fact. Not everyone in Tel Aviv is a foreign worker who demands citizenship, or a tycoon making zillions in high tech and unfairly keeping the prosperity from trickling down. It’s possible that many of Tel Aviv’s tent protesters are the very same people who perpetuate the high levels of real estate demand that justify the pricing structures of the suppliers. The very people who call for the end of Orwellian practices in Israel are the ones who make “Big Brother” a ratings bonanza. There may even be some Tel Avivians who are gay but hate salsa dancing in Speedos while eating sushi.
And there may even be some Israelis whose hearts are warmed by the entertainment value of all this posturing, cheering on those who wrestle with the big issues of the day in the White City, while we remain at a safe distance on the other side of the bubble’s volatile soapy membrane. No, it’s not always fun and games, but it’s always poignant, and when the heady cocktail calls for DJ sets, Bauhaus, piercings, premium arak and bourgeois socialists, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to pay attention.