Israeli Social Protests: A Challenge of Hope to Diaspora Jewry

by Robert Hyfler

Saturday night, 450,000 Israelis, including the largest number of people to ever sing Hatikvah in one place at one time, gathered under the slogan “ha’am doresh tzedek chevrati” – the nation demands social justice.

450,000 Israelis, mostly young, but not all, invoked in name the legacies of Ben Gurion and Achad Ha’Am and proclaimed, paraphrasing one performer at the Tel Aviv Rally, ’63 years ago we created a new state, today we began to fulfill the dream of creating a new kind of state’.

450,000 Israelis, the “new Israelis” as they call themselves, assert that the lack of progress on the political-security front is no excuse to defer the dreams of generations and not create a fairer, more compassionate and more equal Israel.

450,000 Israelis, not taken in by the myths of neo-liberal Thatcherite and Reaganite policies of the last 20 years insist that there is a difference between becoming a successful first world economy and creating a healthy first world society – that selfishness must give way to solidarity and cynicism and greed must be replaced by caring, opportunity and hope.

And how will we in the Jewish Diaspora react and respond?

Will we aggressively build bridges to this new generation – a generation so much like the generation of today’s young Diaspora Jews? Can we sustain a dialog of hope and solidarity, of true peoplehood and true Arevut? (In the speeches Saturday night the concept of authentic, true change and building authentic human relationships was near universal.)

Will we, in our philanthropy, embrace this largely middle class generation and their needs much as we embraced the needs of development towns in Project Renewal and the needs of subsequent waves of new olim? Will our power- house NGO’s, JAFI, JDC, and ORT re-think, retool and respond to this moment?
Will we invite Daphni Leef and Itzik Shmuli to keynote our conferences and will we applaud them with the same fervor as we do the blood and tears exhortations of the Prime Minister?

Will our organized trips, from Birthright to missions dialog not only with “soldiers” but with the real persons inside those uniforms. Will we continue to flock to 2000 year old arches and stones or will we now also engage in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Be’er Sheva?

And can we finally admit that a commitment to tzedek chevrati – social justice is explicit to Torah, no stepchild to Judaism and a defining part of our Jewish DNA?

In April of 2001, with the outbreak of the second intifada, a time of real fear and despair, I helped organize the logistics for a 100,000 person solidarity rally on the Washington Mall. Today, at a time of hope, renewal and Israeli societal rebirth, a new solidarity in substance and form must come forth. As the Israeli world has changed, so must we.

Bob Hyfler can be reached at