Israel’s Summer of Protest: a Generation Comes of Age
by Jeff Kaye
It is hard to profile the people who came to demonstrate in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. They were young and old, secular and religious, Jew and Arab, from the center of Israel and from the periphery. Some were protesting against economic inequality, others were demanding political change or challenging the government to be much more accountable, most included in their protest an emotional plea to finally end the five-year imprisonment of Gilad Shalit.
The common denominator was that they have all been inspired into action by a handful of idealistic young Israelis, who three weeks ago decided that time had come to act on their generation’s responsibility and display the leadership expected of them.
The atmosphere was electric and impassioned, but good natured and high-spirited. It is a credit to the democratic foundations of the State of Israel that 280,000 people can protest openly and without fear, a privilege not granted to any of our neighbors. I stood in the dense crowd, in the heat of an uncomfortable humid Tel Aviv night, and watched the crowd move aside to let an old man push his frail mother ‘s wheel chair to the front of the crowd, where she insisted on holding high the sign that she had brought with her.
This is a no less important junction for those people living in Jewish Communities overseas. Ensuring that Israeli society will continue to be a source of pride is critical not only to Israelis but also to the future of the Jewish People. This is a time for members of Jewish communities and supporters of Israel to ask where it is appropriate for them to get involved, where they could partner with Israelis, and what may be the most effective vehicles for doing so. The crisis in the stock market, and the lowering of credit ratings in the USA should not make this conversation less relevant, quite the opposite.
No matter what happens to this protest, it is clear that the claim that an apathetic and cynical younger generation may lead to the demise of Israeli society was premature. This generation came of age in the hot summer of 2011, and has assumed the baton of responsibility. The struggle to correct what ails, and to create a society based on social justice is still ahead of them, but we should be comforted by the knowledge that we are apparently in good hands.
Jeff Kaye lives in Israel.