|Rachel Liel: The New Civil Consciousness|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
The winter session of the Knesset opened this week in a new atmosphere, following the massive social justice demonstrations that began in July. Despite the movement’s momentum, and the public’s demand for progress on economic issues, a raft of anti-democratic and racist legislation is expected to be introduced in the coming weeks. With both hope and trepidation, NIF Israel Executive Director Rachel Liel published an article on the popular Israeli news website Walla earlier this week entitled "The New Civil Consciousness” (read the article in Hebrew here).
Below is the translation of the article:
The New Civil Consciousness
When the 18th Knesset convenes for its winter session, everything will look the same. The stewards will welcome the Knesset members to a flower-bedecked Knesset building, the Knesset members will sit in the same chairs, the same speaker of the house will invite the president to deliver words of welcome in honor of the session opening. Everything will look the same - but this time everything will be very different.
This summer millions of Israelis experienced the full power of Israeli democracy. They got up, for the first time in many long years, from the sofa in front of the television. They left the screen—that same screen that reminded them over and over again of their political frustration—and went out into the street. They saw with their own eyes how civil action can break through processes and set the agenda for the government and the big corporations. The hundreds of thousands who participated in the various protest actions throughout the country became shareholders with a controlling interest in Israeli society—and began to leverage their shares.
This experience of democracy cannot but influence the Knesset. This personal experience succeeded better than any civics lesson in clarifying to Israel’s citizens what democracy means. For the first time, they saw that democracy is not just a matter of the Right or the Left. It is not even just a matter of the individual against the state. Democracy is a matter of a person against his or her fate. It is the ability to take your fate in your hands and demand a better future, instead of waiting for a leader.
In the new session of the Knesset, legislators will be acting in front of a public that demands to be more involved, a public that is not willing any longer to accept things as understood. Knesset members who have become used to thinking that in Israel they can pass anti-democratic legislation that harms public discourse and would silence those who seek to challenge the consensus will this week find citizens who are much more aware of the meaning of freedom of speech.
The masses of participants in protest events felt the power of civil society. They witnessed the unique strength of the scores of organizations for social change that joined protests and the struggle for social justice. These organizations brought to the protests the expertise and organizational and professional knowledge that they developed and accumulated in long years of activity. Processing information, proposing alternative models of action, advancing policy and legislation, coordinating teams of experts, carrying out activities in the social and geographical periphery—all of these are the precious assets which the organizations for social change brought to the protests.
The civil society organizations played an important part in the mutual reliance and social solidarity that was created. This is the new civil consciousness, one which respects democracy and the freedoms of thought, expression, and ability to influence society. This is a new spirit that will not tolerate harming civil society organizations, sowing hatred, dividing and separating. All of them will stand in the way of those Knesset members who try to perpetuate the evil spirit of yesterday and cultivate a politics of intimidation, of silencing criticism, of advancing a policy of divide and conquer, of harming human rights organizations—and of legislating anti-democratic laws. The public will no longer let these organizations’ freedom of action be impinged—which during the past years has become a regular target for pressure by these Knesset members.
Whether in Rothschild Boulevard or Zion Square, in Be’er Sheva or Mitze Hila, the public has shown its power. Big cities alongside the periphery, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Jews and Arabs—all marched together for a common purpose: social justice. For the first time in many years, politics has changed in Israel thanks to social protest. The politics of intimidation have given way to the politics of positive action and thinking. Now all that is left is to see whether the members of Knesset have internalized this change, and whether they will join it. If they do, the Knesset will have returned to fulfilling its mission as the true seat of democracy