Changing Israel: The Social Justice Protests

Categories: Israel
By Shawn Guttman

If only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy I could have won.

                               -from I Gave You All by Mumford and Sons

This past Saturday I joined with 20,000 Israelis in Tel Aviv and, once again, marched for change. Walking, chanting and waving signs, we journeyed from HaBima Square at the top of Rothschild Boulevard to the recently renovated Rabin Square. I’ll be honest, this latest episode in the saga of the Tent Protests felt different. The energy was still there – no one was sleeping within a 10-block radius of our path along Ibn Gvirol Street. All sectors of Israeli society were present. The speeches were spot on. Yet still something felt lacking. As I sat on the bus travelling home I finally found that pestering question at the heart of it all: Have we accomplished anything? Has change come to the land of milk and honey? Not the most earth-shattering of thoughts, but still one that I needed to answer.

Rabin Square… Sixteen years ago this Saturday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir – a man driven by hatred and the guidance of his rabbis and community who took matters into his own hands and ended the evolving and strengthening peace process with a gun. And so began, what I believe has been the saddest chapter of Israel’s history. In these sixteen years we have learned that life is “easier” when you do not care. Why hope and dream if it is just going to end in dejection? Might as well just focus on myself and make sure that me and my own are taken care of. We have also learned that violence is the best tool in which to make change in this country. It is easy to point at the “Price Tag” acts of Jewish terrorism as an example of this and write off my previous statement as exaggeration and extremism. But when I make that statement I’m not thinking about those examples. I’m thinking about the man in the Orange mobile phone store who is screaming – veins bulging and face red – at the teller because he is not getting his way. I’m thinking about the soldiers pushing and shoving each other out of the way to ensure they get on their bus off base. I’m thinking about the parent who, when learning that their child got into a fist-fight at school, responds that it is important to learn how to stand-up for yourself. This lesson – that violence is our best tool – has permeated all sectors of Israeli society.

As often happens on these bus rides, I’m halfway home and more than a little depressed about the state of this country – my home – that I made Aliyah to one short year ago. Thankfully, I’m sitting next to a friend who reminds me what I just came from. And then it all comes flooding back in a rush of elation: the social workers strike at the beginning of the summer; the ongoing battle of the doctors to improve their conditions and those of their patients; the boycotting of cottage cheese in protest of the ever increasing cost of basic foodstuffs, gas, electricity and water; the election of Shelly Yechimovich to head of the Labor Party; bringing home Gilad Shalit; and, of course, the six weeks of protests, rallies and tent encampments across the country this summer – which through education turned the protests of a specific sector into a demand for wholesale change for all the citizens of this country – culminating in 8% of this country’s population taking to the streets shouting “The Nation Demands Social Justice!”

So… what have we accomplished? The goals of this summer’s protests have not been met. True, even though I believe they will. But something significantly more important has occurred in the last six months – the necessary first step in actually making change in this country. We woke up from the last sixteen years of apathy, self-indulgence and doubt, stood up for what we believed in and fought for it, not using violence, but using our voices. Today, Israel is a different country than it was half a year ago. We have remembered our voice – our true power. We have remembered we are Zionists. This is our country to shape and we will do so together with an outpouring of discussion, dialogue, disagreement and peaceful and constructive campaigning. This is an exciting time to be an Israeli, a Zionist, a Jew. Let’s see what we can do….                      

About Sheldon Schreter

Sheldon Schreter is originally from Montreal and has lived in Israel since 1976. The former director of the WUJS Institute in Arad, he has been active in various Israeli businesses for the last 25 years. He is the proud father of 4 sons, two of whom are still serving in the Israel Defense Forces and the other two finished their service and are university students. A resident of Ra’anana, Schreter is a loyal fan of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team.
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