In 1969 and 1970 I was in Madison Wisconsin and to this day I remember the subtleties of those long marches and protest movements. I must admit that I haven’t thought much about them, nor were those events in any way some glorious part of my personal history. I was a peripheral sort of protester.
But this past Saturday night, I found myself protesting from the periphery as I was swept up in the march that accrued in Tel Aviv. The cause of the demonstration: high housing prices and what has been called here in Israel “communal justice.”
So the other night at dinner I was having dinner in Tel Aviv with an Israeli friend who has little knowledge of the 60s in the United States. He referred to the Israeli protesters as part of “the new left.” I was startled. For a moment I thought I had been here before.
There are certain similarities. The movement we are now witnessing in Tel Aviv is a single-issue protest about housing prices and, implicitly, about urban rental rates. The young feel disenfranchised from the urban centers in the society. This morning I saw a sign that heralded life in Tel Aviv without the rich (see the above picture I took). Tel Aviv has become an amazingly expensive city and real estate throughout the country has gone up.
But the issue is whether this single-issue movement will succeed in transferring itself into an economic and political movement which can challenge some of the libertarian philosophies that have emerged in this country in the last 20 years.
The issue is whether this movement will able to “put the shadow of Milton Friedman” back in the closet or if will it remain a single-issue movement like the Vietnam protest.
Just as the Vietnam protests failed to turn into an economic protest, these Israeli economic protests will fail if they cannot transfer themselves into peace protests. While the issue of settlements is danced about, in effort to avoid derailing of this movement, many have avoided touching the “third rail.” And that third rail in Israeli society is the economics of settlements.
Protests that don’t touch the third rail quickly die. This is the largest demonstration in Israel’s history and if anything is going to change then flamboyant, clear minded, and courageous leadership will have to touch this third rail.
Everything else seems to be a camouflage. True change leadership in any society must touch society’s third rail. For a movement to truly succeed its leaders must bring all the issues to the surface.