Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tent City TLV - The revolution will not be on Facebook

Much of what you might read on this blog about Israel is perhaps overly complacent - fawning over the concept and culture of the Jewish state, with only occasional light criticism of the current Israeli government's seeming reluctance to engage with the Palestinians or the two-state solution. Having lived here for more than a year, now nearly a decade ago, I have some sense of the complexity of Israeli society and politics, and long ago lost the uncritical, honeymoon-ish devotion that often afflicts tourists and new immigrants (briefly, until they have to spend a day at Misrad Ha-Penim / Ministry of the Interior office). Perhaps that has not been so obvious in this forum.

Today as I walked through Tel Aviv, I made it a point to stroll through the "tent city" demonstration on Rothschild Street. This is a protest that began just last week, beginning with a Facebook call to action, largely in opposition to high housing prices, but also an assault on what the protesters see as the government's devotion to special interests (corporate buddies, new immigrants, right-wing religious groups, even foreign visitors like me). What precipitated this protest is a real estate bill before the Kenesset that many believe to favor wealthy developers with strong government ties over average Israelis. There are now similar tent cities all over Israel.

Israeli politics is quite complex, so much so that I cannot possibly describe it adequately here. But this particular protest is notable for two reasons. First, it follows a recent nationwide protest, also initiated on Facebook, over the increase in the price of cottage cheese. Second, it has captured the attention of the nation. News outlets have heavily featured the protests, and a large rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night attracted tens of thousands of people, and Prime Minister Netanyahu canceled a trip to Poland to address the issue at home.

As I walked through the tent city, reading the signs of protest, the political slogans, the quotes from biblical and rabbinic sources about fair treatment for all, I was struck by the tremendous resentment that these "average Israelis" feel, and the strong sentiment of neglect felt by the central demographic pillar of Israeli society. Housing, education, health care, and more - their message is that these items are being passed over in favor of helping everybody else.

(Faux ad: "A find! Tent divided into four wonderful residential units, not renovated, 5 minutes from the beach. 2800 sheqel per month [equals about US$820])

I took a detour and headed off to the shuk, but the following slogan from one of the signs in the tent city echoed in my head:

המהפכה לא יפוסבק
Ha-mahapekhah lo tefusbak
The revolution will not be on Facebook

This is striking not only because of the clever hebraization of the name of a popular Internet site, nor the cultural reference to the 1970 song by Gil Scott-Heron (ז"ל), but because of the presence of mind of the anonymous wag who penned it. Real people in the streets, full of venom for their government - this is the way that revolutions happen. Not in digital form, or on paper, or even by telephone.

Leaving aside the imminent debacle that will erupt when the Palestinians ask the UN for statehood in September, I am not concerned about the stability of Israel or its government. Nonetheless, this is a movement with legs.

(The above photos are mine; you can see more pictures via this virtual tour.)

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