July 4, 2012 | 1:12 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Last year, the world entered a new phase of protests calling for social justice. It probably existed earlier, that longing for equality in the society, but last summer, the entire world felt it simultaneously. Israel, of course, took a meaningful part in the summer of protests. I am all in favor of the freedom of speech. This is one of the most significant human rights and is an essential component of Democracy. But the thing about freedom of speech is that it should be done right, and by “right” I mean with putting our minds into it. Lately, it seems like people in Israel protest just to protest. Like this is some sort of a fashion trend- everybody do it! Equal rights for the Gay community, recruitment for Haredi, lower real estate prices- they are all very important issues we currently have in Israel, but there is a point when fighting for justice turns to fighting just for a fight. When a country reaches this point- everything worth fighting for loses its value.
Last year’s protest was the biggest Israel’s ever seen. The streets were filled with tents, as people of the middle class gathered to demand social justice. This protest swirled everybody’s heads and got us all carried away. It took a governmental committee that accomplish nothing to realize this protest was unfocused and demanded too big of a change. Ever since, it seemed like the idea of protest really turned on people here. Soon, every subject concerning anyone was accompanied by a protest: subjects such as the prices of chocolate bars. Every struggle seemed to have a need for a protest for decoration. The outcome, I’m afraid, was a really bad Sukkah- too much decoration and no space to breathe.
Now it is summer again, and my Facebook wall is starting to fill with invitations for protests. People are calling me to place a tent in the streets of Tel Aviv and shout important phrases, such as “the people demand social justice.” “Going out to the streets” became a common phrase that no one knows what it means. Is there a concrete plan with an outcome the protests arrangers wish to accomplish? Because let’s face it- social justice is something we all wish to get, but none of us really knows how to get it. This takes deep thought and right usage of freedom of speech.
A couple of weeks ago I found out I was not alone with my thoughts. Protest leaders worldwide landed in Israel for a special convention, where they dealt with issues regarding social protests, and discussed the right way to throw a protest. Stav Shaffir, one of the notable figures during the protests last summer, took part in that convention, along with protest leaders from Russia, Greece, Spain and many more. Some made a difference, some are still waiting, and some saw in the Israeli protest a great inspiration. On one thing they all agreed: the outcomes of a true revolution take time. A meaningful change can be accomplished only by hard, consistent work, guided by a clear agenda. The issues which lead to all those protests were major, profound issues (at least most of them). And this kind of change is important for every democracy. Last week, some protestors started to use violence, as well as some policemen. A protestor was quoted saying: “We learned that setting tents accomplished nothing, so the police better watch out this summer.” Is this how we want to use our freedom of speech? Is violence really the way to make a difference? Some may believe it is, but not me.
This is exactly why we shouldn’t let the true solutions be replaced by a fog of signs and shouts. The struggle for social justice cannot be reached by simply stepping outside. It is an important part of the making of a change, but fighting with the government until one side starts to bleed will get us nowhere. I really hope this summer will be the true “worldwide spring.” I hope lessons from previous mistakes, along with the conclusions from the convention, will show our fierce protest leaders, as well as our governments, the right way. Governments worldwide should try and listen to the voice of the people instead of ignoring their voters, but the people should be willing to sit and talk, instead of shouting. History has proven to us all that great minds think alike, and that leaders work best together. This is our chance. Our time is now.
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