We know where you live!

The author shouting at Minister Kisch. Sign says, "Here lives a collaborator with dictatorship."     photo credit: Nili Bresler
The author shouting outside the penthouse of Minister Kisch. Sign says, "Here lives a collaborator with the dictatorship."

Protesting gets personal when you live in a fishbowl

We have been marching in the streets since January. By now the whole world has seen us waving flags, shouting DEMOCRACY, shouting SHAME! The rallies are everywhere. From the north to the south, in every city and village, we gather in town squares, unfurl banners on bridges, block roads and junctions. This protest is massive and nationwide. Yes, this is a national protest, but it’s also gotten very personal.

Anyone who knows Israel, and Israelis, may be surprised by how well-organized our protests are. This is a country of individualists. We Israelis are fiercely independent. We refuse to follow dress codes and we are notoriously late for appointments. But somehow, we all show up for the rallies on time carrying our flags and wearing our uniform: democracy tee shirts.  We march together, we chant the same chant. Maybe it’s the military training most of us have been through. This is a time of emergency, and we show up when called, as soldiers in an army called up to defend our homeland. In fact, that is how many of us feel.

And how do we know when and where to show up? Our WhatsApp chat groups, of course. We stop at the card tables set up along our marching route, scan a QR code and voila, we are instantly subscribed to a WhatsApp chat group. We buy tee shirts and paraphernalia to support the cause. There are abundant conspiracy theories about foreign groups financing our protests. BS. I can tell you first-hand who is paying for the protest movement. It’s people like me. High tech companies and other businesspeople concerned for the future of free enterprise in this country are making huge contributions. I know this for a fact. Many of them are my clients. And on a smaller scale, individuals like me are donating our hard-earned shekels. We buy protest swag. We make digital payments from our phones or via websites. Some people contribute cash, but most of us pay online.

Each of the many protest movements has its own chat group. We get our weekly marching orders from the protest leaders. Our smartphones buzz with messages.  There are national and local groups. Every city has its own group where we get updates about local gathering points, transportation to major rallies in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, and notifications about protests outside the homes of cabinet ministers who live in our towns.  Welcome to Israel. Life inside a fishbowl.

I am constantly reminded of the theme song to the TV series Cheers:

You wanna be where you can see, Our troubles are all the same, You wanna be where everybody knows your nameYou wanna go where everybody knows your name. In this country, it’s not just your name that we know. We know your address down to the apartment number and parking space, your personal details, your home phone number, the names of your parents and grandparents…

Many years ago my family was visiting me here in Israel. We went out to eat at a café in Tel Aviv. The service was terrible. This was over 20 years ago. It was particularly painful for me, since I was then training Israelis in customer service. I had just been bragging to my family about how we Israelis were improving in this area. Naturally, this hubris attracted the evil eye! The server was having a bad night, maybe a bad year. The table was dirty, the service slow, rude and inept. Everyone got the wrong order. No one got even a hint of an apology. I’m happy to say that things have greatly improved since then. But that night I felt it my duty as a trainer to leave the most minimal tip – as a statement. Perhaps to encourage the server to find a more appropriate job. When we left, the server ran after us, yelling, ‘You call this a tip?” I yelled back, “I only tip for good service.”  The server then yelled, “I know where you live!”   My family was shocked and a bit scared. I calmly explained that this was an empty threat. Of course, in this tiny country, it may well have been true.

That line, “I know where you live!” became one of the punchlines in my family – shorthand for rude service. Well, these days, people on my side of the fence are the ones being rude.

Marching outside home of Minister Kisch. Photo credit: Koby Windzberg. Used with permission of the photographer.

We march to the homes of cabinet ministers and stand outside shouting. We disturb the peace. We scream into megaphones. We chant, ‘Shame, Shame, Shame!’ and stomp and drum and whistle. We yell at the neighbors to come outside and join us, or to wave from their balconies. Many of them do. Friday afternoons, when polite Israelis are letting their neighbors nap, we are obnoxiously marching around residential neighborhoods screaming and shouting. At some point during each of these events, the rally leader will instruct us to get our mobile phones. She or he will dictate a phone number, “This is the personal line of the Minister. Dial it now. Leave a message. Be polite. Don’t curse.  Keep calling. Fill their phone line with messages. Don’t let them rest.”

Creative signmaking: Kisch mir ein tuchiss. photo credit: Nili Bresler

I live in Ramat Gan, around the corner from the penthouse of Education Minister Yoav Kisch. He’s not home much. Turns out he also has a villa in another town about 30 minutes away. Nevertheless, the Ramat Gan gang is determined. We march to Kisch’s building and stand outside shouting. We hold up homemade signs that say rude things about him. We carry banners and posters naming Kisch as a collaborator with the dictatorship.

At last week’s rally I got a chance to speak, make that shout. I yelled about the deplorable state of public education in Israel. I bemoaned the fact that our children are not being taught proper values, nor adequate English to prepare them to join the world. Israel is now ranked a lowly 33rd place in reading and 40th in math and science out of 65 countries in the OECD’s standardized exams. This is what happens when governments stop investing in education. I yelled at Minister Kisch for a few minutes, then handed the mic over to the next angry neighbor. We all get our say. Unlike the current government, our movement is actually democratic.

Ministers of Israel, we know where you live. We are not ashamed to march around town shouting. We are not shy about disturbing the peace. Don’t expect to get any rest until this nightmare is over. Welcome to life in a fishbowl – where everybody knows your name.

About the Author
Nili Bresler is a member of Israel's pro-democracy movement. She is a business communications coach with experience in management at multinational technology companies. Prior to her career in high-tech, Nili was a news correspondent for the AP. Nili holds a degree in International Relations from NYU. Nili volunteers with the nonprofit, NATAN Worldwide Disaster Relief. Nili made aliya in 1970 and lives in Ramat Gan.
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