|11 August 2011|
|Written by Ruby Ong|
11 August 2011
They just keep coming
First it was a single lone young woman, fed up with doing everything she was supposed to and still not being able to get by in Tel Aviv in 2011. In frustration at losing an apartment she could no longer afford, she pitched a tent on Rothchild Blvd and invited Facebook friends who felt as she did to join her to protest an economy that was leaving more and more Israelis behind.
Soon there were 400 tents lining the boulevard. A few days later, over 10,000 people, across Israel, joined them, calling for a return to priorities that reflect a founding Israeli value that many feared was long forgotten: social justice. Protest tents sprang up in Jerusalem, Beer Sheva, Kiriyat Shemona... The demonstrations were a shock to the system in Israel. They dominated the media, worried the government, inspired the country. And they were just the beginning.
The next weekend, 150,000 took to the streets. Peacefully, forcefully, they called for a new Israel. And just this past weekend, 300,000 marched. 300,000. What began as a protest against rising housing costs has bloomed into a mass-movement for social justice.
If you think the signs and slogans at the protests sound a lot like NIF core values, you'd be right. As you will read in this issue of NIF News, we have worked for fair housing, for closing the gap between the haves and have-nots, for economic justice for years. And we are offering support to the protesters today. Each day, we receive requests for support from groups of Israelis from all backgrounds who want to join the protests in the periphery of the country, far from the center. With your help, we are enabling them to do so. And organizers and experts from Shatil are providing support and advice to the demonstrators. The agenda of the protests is still very much a work in progress. They do not offer solutions to all of the problems facing Israel. But they have shown, loud and clear, that the Israeli people are wide awake, and demanding a better, different future than the one currently on offer.
For the past twenty months I have been writing to you about the profound challenges posed to Israel by what can only be understood as an attempt at "de-democratization," carried out by powerful hardliners who are trying to change the very nature of Israel's liberal democracy. To be sure, this is a fight for the very soul of the State of Israel, and we are proud to help lead the defense of democracy.
But even as the fight to push back against what Benny Begin, Tzipi Livni and others across the political spectrum have described as a "darkness" that is rising in Israel has intensified, a great light is suddenly evident. That light illuminates what is best in the soul of the Israeli people. And despite the difficult days in which we live, I have never been prouder to be a lover and supporter of this beautiful Israel, an Israel of hope, tents, compassion and change.
The highlight of this issue is, for me, the personal reflections on the social protests of my dear friend and colleague, NIF's Israel Executive Director, Rachel Liel. For a woman who has devoted her life to building a better, fairer Israel, the last three weeks come as a profound validation of all she has worked for. As she says,"to hear over 300,000 Israeli demonstrators chanting for social justice is a dream come true."
Nobody knows for sure where the social protests will take Israel. But one thing is certain: they will keep coming. And we will work with them, support them and cheer them on.