Hillel Schenker

The Social Protest – We’re Still Here!

“We changed the consciousness, now we’ll change the reality!”   That was message that was circulated on the Israeli social media.

Last night, two years after Daphni Leef created an “event” on her Facebook page announcing the first protest tent on Rothschild Blvd., thousands of people returned to the streets of Tel Aviv.  Clearly, estimations (in certain quarters hopes) that the social protest had run its course were premature, to say the least.

Two years after tents were set up protesting the high cost of living, the price of housing has risen by an average of 10%, the government is threatening to repeal the progressive public housing law so that “the free market” can take care of things, and a story in the Calcalist financial newspaper related that the overwhelming majority of the Israelis cannot manage without their parents’ help, and this includes people in their 40s!

Back to Habima Square corner Rothschild Boulevard

Once again, I found myself heading out to Habima Square, at the entrance to Rothschild Blvd, the starting point for all the protest demonstrations.   There was Yossi Cotten, our first encounter was when I was directing the regional high school dining room and he was the food supplier who later ran a student restaurant at Tel Aviv U. together with future Histadrut leader Chaim Ramon before going into hi-tech, there was Moshe Sadot, whose son was together with my son in kindergarten, there was David Kishani, the one man demonstration directory, who prepares a weekly list of all the relevant demonstrations by hand and copies it for distribution, there was Yuval, the young activist from my block always going here and there on his bicycle, and there was Oded Hon, I performed at his wedding (though not at his divorce), with endless energy reinforced by his years in the paratroopers, out there at every demo.  And there’s MK Ilan Gilon in his wheelchair, sweating in the summer heat. “This is our life, going from protest to protest”.

And thousands of others – mostly younger and angrier!/image/3569399713.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_640/3569399713.jpg

And there was Daphni Leef, with a mike on a makeshift stand on Kaplan Street, with the Kirya (Israeli Pentagon) and the Azrieli Towers, symbols of the Israeli military-industrial complex, looming in the background.   “This is your demonstration -we did it together, without any political support.  We are not right or left, we are the people, and we are angrier than ever…This isn’t a protest, it’s a struggle, a fight to the end on the future of our lives.”  

Well, maybe we are not right or left, but one common theme was “Bibi go home”.   Or to be more accurate “Bibi and Lapid (Finance Minister Yair Lapid) go home”. 

Individual ownership through signs and t-shirts

One of the most interesting and creative aspects of the social protest movement, which gives every individual ownership of the movement, is the hand-made signs that people carry, sometimes on placards, sometimes on t-shirts.   Just a brief sampling – “Housing is not a luxury!”, “Bibi, get off my back! (on the back of a t-shirt), “Thank you for the humiliation”, “We are the champions, in poverty”, “You took from me my future and my horizon, all I have left is hatred and revenge!” “Shari Arrison (the owner of Bank Hapoalim) is a partner in crime”, “We are returning the state to its citizens”, “Ben-Gurion called us pioneers, (Tel Aviv Mayor) Huldai and (tycoon) Tshuva call us squatters,” “The market is free while we are slaves”, “There is an Occupation, There is no Hope” and  “Okay, Enough!”

All the old slogans were also there: “Ha’am doresh tzedek chevrati”/The people demand social justice”, to which Daphni Leef added, “The people demand a social budget!” given the general perception that most of even the governmental Trachtenberg Committee recommendations have been ignored.   Daphni also called on the demonstrators to have patience, to wait for the arrival of the parallel demonstration from the deprived neighborhood of Givat Amal.   This was a demonstration of the middle class together with the deprived working class, the 20% of the Israelis who live below the poverty line.

Bibi & Lapid = Morsi

A few new elements were added since the first anniversary demos in the summer of 2012. One was, following the results of the Israeli elections, anger at Yair Lapid, considered a servant of the tycoons and a representative of the 1%, for having “stolen” the revolution. One of the slogans was “Im Bibi v’Lapid, Ein Atid”/With Bibi and Lapid there is No Future” (a play on the Hebrew name of Lapid’s party). 

The second element was based on a glance at our neighbors in Egypt.   If the original summer protests of 2011 followed the mass protests in Tahrir Square which led to the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, last night’s protest followed the renewal of the mass Egyptian protest movement which led to the removal of President Morsi and his colleagues. One hand-made sign read “Bibi & Lapid = Morsi – It’s the Same Revolution”.   Another read “Morsi and Lapid, The Same Shit Stole the Protest and Squeezed the Middle Class – Lapid and Netanyahu to Prison.”

Bibi + Lapid = Morsi

Gas, not budget cuts

And another element was the protest over the direction of the proceeds from the big findings of natural gas off the shores of the country.  Signs read “Gaz v’lo Gzeirot”/Gas, not Budget Cuts”, a reference to the idea that instead of going to the pockets of the tycoons, a bigger percentage of the income from this national natural resource should go to the people. A petition of the topic was also being signed on the sidelines of the demo.

One of the most surprising elements at the demo was the appearance of a member of the Likud Central Committee who declared that “Bibi destroyed the social fabric of Israeli society, the basic solidarity, and he had to go”.   While former Black Panther Charley Biton said that the Israeli people should follow the inspiration of the Egyptian people, and remove their leaders with a revolution.

Another target of the protesters was Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who while originally allowing the protest tents to stay in place during the summer of 2011, brutally took them down when the fall arrived, and is perceived to be in league with the building tycoons.   One hand-made sign said simply “Ani lo ohev autcha Huldai”/I don’t like you Huldai.”  Huldai’s rival in the October municipal elections Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, a regular rank and file participant in all the demonstrations, couldn’t agree more.

Remembering Moshe Silman

And finally, there was a moment of silence in memory of Moshe Silman, the man who set himself on fire at the first anniversary demonstration a year ago at the same location, and eventually succumbed to the flames.  As Rabbi Idit Lev said in his memory, “Moshe told me on the eve of last year’s demonstration that he was going to do an act of individual protest.  But we are not alone, and we are carrying out our protest together…and together we will win”.  


About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv