For various reasons, most Israelis think that the cost-of-living protests must resume — and resume they will. This summer in Israel threatens to be a repeat of last year’s summer of tents and demonstrations. Not much has changed since last year, which could make things go either way: It might convince Israelis that the tent movement was a waste of precious time and make this year’s attempt less successful — or it might make Israelis even more angry and more prone to join the battle. But an attempt will be made to make this year’s protest more effective and less naïve and friendly than last year. The government has yet to have a good plan for responding to this looming crisis.
Shaul Mofaz, the new head of the Kadima Party, has repeatedly said that he intends to “lead” this year’s protest. The problem for him is that it is not at all clear that anyone really wants him to lead a movement that was able to organize itself while keeping politicians at bay. Again, things can go either way this year: People might respond negatively to the attempts by Mofaz (and other politicians) at “leading” the movement — seeing it as an attempt to politicize a movement of people from all parties. Or they might say, last year we didn’t achieve much because we didn’t have any political muscle with which to push new rules and legislation; it is time for the movement to grow up and find a political vehicle through which changes can be enforced on the government.
And of course, Mofaz will not be the only politician to try and gain by leading the movement. Other politicians are going to make the same attempt, turning this year’s summer of protest into a summer of political infighting.
Politicians will not be the only ones fighting for leadership of the protest movement. Last year’s protests also ended with some of the organizers having difficulty communicating with one another. This year such differences might become even more pronounced, with political participation being one of the main points of disagreement.
Naturally, fighting a war against Iran will not be easy with Israelis living in tents.
While last summer’s protest achieved little and was far from being a cohesive effort that could have had yielded specific results, a new summer protest is worrying the prime minister and could become a problem for the ruling coalition. A March 30 Maariv poll found that 68 percent of Israelis are not happy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “socioeconomic” policies. The prime minister is politically strong, and the Maariv poll confirms this (62 percent support his diplomatic-defense policies). However, his Achilles heel is the economy. That’s quite ironic considering Israel’s relative economic success and stability in the face of the world’s financial crisis, but that’s the way it is. Either Israelis are unimpressed with Israel’s success, or they don’t understand that Israel is doing far better than most other countries today, or they aren’t giving Netanyahu credit for it, or they don’t care much about such success if not all Israelis can benefit.
On March 28, Israel’s Central Bank released its annual report, pointing to the fact that “Israel maintains one of the highest income inequality rates among Western economies, in spite of a modest decline in the dimensions of the gap.” High inequality is bad; decline in the dimension of high inequality is good. Hence, Netanyahu’s problem: He tends to focus on the good news (“The Israel economy grew by 4.7 percent last year. This is impressive, especially in light of the fact that in 2011, the global economy was caught up in one of the worst crises it has known,” he said following the release of the report) – while Israel’s protesters focus on the bad news (several hundred protesters marched in Tel Aviv on Saturday to protest the rises in gas and electricity prices).