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From protest to power

From protest to power

The young demonstrators would do well to remember May 1968 in Europe; a protest that does not find immediate political expression is destined to disintegrate.

By Zeev Sternhell
August 5, 2011

In these times of hope and anticipation, it is difficult not to wonder what form the protest might have taken, and what results it might already have achieved, if there had been a large and authentic social-democratic party here with a labor union worthy of the name, at its side. Indeed a spontaneous uprising that does not find political expression very soon, and does not threaten those who are in power, will of necessity have very limited achievements.

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that when there is no opposition with an ideology of structural social change, and which is capable of garnering electoral support for a comprehensive national economic program, the danger facing him and his party is negligible. The truth is that the protesters themselves have already presented him with a way out. His representatives will anoint the protest leaders with pure oil, will set up teams and present ideas, will throw them a few bones and then will move to the area where there is no greater expert than Netanyahu: drawing out time and making promises that no one intends to keep.

The real problem, however, is not the government but rather the political elite. Except for a small number of politicians on the center-left, like Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ), most of the political leadership is partner to the blind belief in the unique qualities of a free market. There were indeed people outside the political arena who for decades contended that a free market creates no less poverty and misery than wealth and welfare; there were those who believed that poverty is not some kind of natural phenomenon but rather something created by man. But all of them were considered "populist." There were people who saw in the state a tool for correcting distortions and supplying cheap and good-quality services to the entire population, but they were denounced as wanting to return to the 1950s.

Therefore the young demonstrators would do well to remember May 1968 in Europe. Beyond the obvious differences, there is a common denominator: a protest that does not find immediate political expression is destined to disintegrate.

New forces that were not involved in politics until now could play a key role. They could break the neoliberal consensus and to be the motivating force behind the creation of a broad opposition front that brings together all those who recognize the need to address the chronic ills of Israeli society - and not just deal with the milk cartels.

A front of that kind would have place for all those who shy away from the neoconservative "economy of compassion" which is the basis of the impure alliance between the government, the Histadrut labor federation and the people with big money.

Indeed a protest against the obstructed social horizon of the middle class is not out of touch with numerous other problems. In order to create a society that is more egalitarian and just a change is needed in the political balance of power. The protesters will be able to achieve substantive results only by linking up with all the forces that are opposed to the present government, but not to the settlers who are its pillars of support. It will not be enough to demonstrate and march, especially since the marchers will tire a long time before the politicians and before the Yesha Council of settlements.

Therefore, after their preliminary success, they will have to begin the process of dull political work and building up a force that can compete in the next elections. The tent dwellers may be able to provide part of the leadership and to refresh the lines. The hope that was born in the Rothschild tent city must not be allowed to expire in the argument over VAT accounts. Unless an ideological and moral force arises that can be an alternative to the destructiveness of neo-liberalism, the life expectancy of this welcome protest will be as long as the length of the Israeli summer.

ENDS

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