The dawning of an ‘Israeli spring’

A protester carries a sign with images of a tent and the prime minister and the slogan, Where there is no prime minister, there is no housing.

It began with a boycott of cottage cheese after a price hike was announced. Saturday night 150,000 Israelis took to the streets, from Kiryat Shmona in the north to Beersheba in the south, to tell their government they’re fed up with its refusal to take responsibility for its constituents.

They carried a multitude of signs and shouted a variety of slogans. One sign demanded a welfare state, “Now!” Another read, “The market is free; we are slaves.” But the main slogan everywhere was “The people want social justice!”

It’s an amorphous concept that means different things to different people. For many it is affordable housing within a reasonable distance from jobs; for others it is employment opportunities commensurate with their education; for yet others it is affordable child care so they can go out and work.

Overall—and this was the concept formulated by the Old Testament prophets from whom we derive the notion of social justice—it is a demand that society (in this case, society represented by its government) take responsibility for everyone, including its weakest members.

The government, typically, responded with a few hurriedly applied band aids, such as canceling a planned price hike in gasoline and the appointment of yet another committee, this time to consider how to address the demands.

The protesters remain in tent cities, many of them in sweltering Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, the old-new heart of the city’s commercial district. And there is plenty of anger to fuel the continuation of the protest.

Patriotic rainbow flags were among the items on sale in Independence Park.

Proud to be part of Jerusalem’s Pride Parade

Four ambulances lined up next to Jerusalem’s Independence Park last Thursday, July 28, where people were gathering for the city’s annual Pride Parade. It was an ominous sight, a reminder that in 2005 an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed three marchers. (I was carrying a light jacket then and used it to stanch the blood of one of the injured.)

And though Tel Aviv is considered an open city and a haven for all sexual orientations, in 2009 two young people were shot to death and about a dozen were injured in a gay club; the police have yet to find the assailant.

A contractor carrying out renovations in one of the apartments in our building was surprised to learn from my husband that I had gone to the parade. What the contractor probably didn’t hear is that even my husband has joined me at the parade at least once. Had the contractor asked me, he would have heard a thing or two about human rights.

I would have gladly joined the march to the Knesset, but it was slow in getting organized and the heat was unbearable. All I could manage was to sit through the preliminary speeches, all of which were translated into sign language. I learned about sub-groups within sub-groups, each with its special problems. One person spoke about transgender youngsters whose parents throw them out and who end up on the streets.

Most articulate was activist Lihi Rothschild, who declared herself to be bisexual and who protested against the government’s use of its gay population to market the country as a tolerant haven. “They’re using us as a fig leaf,” she said. “They’re using us as propaganda.”

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photos may be used without written permission of the author.

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5 Responses to “The dawning of an ‘Israeli spring’”

  1. Ruth Smith Says:

    Kol hakavod Esther!

  2. David Says:

    Jews believe in redemption, even in the darkest of days,

    It is hard to envisage redemption without revolution or cataclysm in a society where the few ‘haves’ hold all the aces.

    Is Israeli society redeemable?

  3. Iris Chayet Says:

    Hi Esther,
    I so enjoyed reading this article and sent it to friends. I especially like you way you intertwine the present with the past in relation to our universal responsibility to human kind.
    Iris

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