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Tents of Social Protest

Ever since the democratic protest movement in Iran we have been hearing about the importance of new technology as a source for grounded democracy. There is a sense that social technology has created a new popular dialogue which may, in a very fundamental way, impact the way governments make decisions, operate, and make claims to reflect the interest of their people.

Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were each dramatic examples of how a grounded movement can play a powerful and significant role that can, at least, challenge the direction of established governments. In each of these cases people wanted to be heard. They wanted their voice to matter and inevitably they wanted a sense that their leadership is delivering for them.

The events in Israel over the last two weeks, while not as dramatic as those in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, further show how a grounded social movement in this new age of social technology can challenge (or begin to challenge) the direction of government and social visions.

There’s a question as to whether the current events in Israel will amount to anything, but a dialogue which, in many ways, has been submerged for the last 25 years has now come to the surface. If this conversation continues Israel’s direction could be full of internal conflict.

For the last few weeks I’ve been walking down Roschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, a major promenade in Tel Aviv, observing the tents that have been erected in protest. These tents are occupied by young people who are protesting high housing prices–they are demanding that something be done about the inequity in real estate and rent costs. While the focus of the demonstration has been about the property prices you get the feeling as you walk among the protesters that there’s really another dialogue emerging—a dialogue about what direction the government should go. The issues of social justice, the issues of economic inequality, the issues of oligarchical control of the economy, and the issues of health reform are all being discussed.

More and more, Israel is a society in which the young and the middle class are becoming disillusioned. This spark, this sense of inequality, is starting first genuine dialogue in which social economic issues are coming to the forefront and it might lead to something…or it might lead to nothing.

Bibi Netanyahu, the micro-tactician of domestic politics, struggles with quick fixes. As all tactical leaders (as opposed to strategic leaders) he tries to put the genie back in the bottle with drama and band aides. The question now is going to be whether the genie is really out of the bottle, whether this spontaneous spark can find the leadership to move it forward. Whether this somewhat chaotic happening, which is now spreading throughout the country, can be translated into the world of institutional politics.

If it can then inevitably it will have implications for all aspects of Israeli society. It will inevitably lead to a genuine debate as to what can be accomplished in a world in which many decisions are zero-sum games.  It will lead to the first genuine social dialogue that has occurred in this society since 1976 when Menchem Begin challenged the old order. The question is: will leadership emerge from the tents on Roschild Boulevard?



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