Most summers, we think about vacation and getting away from it all for rest and relaxation. As this summer ends, think protest. Picking up from the Arab Spring and the power of community organizing the world over, we have seen the potential of human networking to challenge the status quo. Now we are seeing the same force at work in Israel, but unlike the violence so common elsewhere, in Israel the protests have showcased Israel’s vibrant democracy.
Originally a small uprising by young citizens of Tel-Aviv who were frustrated by the lack of affordable housing options, the Tent Protest – as it is now affectionately called – has taken Israel by storm. This is still true despite the complicated national security issues that the country has recently faced and still faces in the near future (the terrorist attack near Eilat and ensuing missile barrage, deteriorating relations with Turkey and the upcoming UN vote on Palestinian statehood).
The protests have brought together people from all walks of Israeli life to ask difficult questions about social justice in Israeli society.
Every major newspaper picked up some aspects of the story. The small country that brought us the kibbutz and the moshav showed the world the way to make a more just and equal society. But now, those old assumptions about creating parity are being profoundly questioned. And it’s a good thing.
Like the voice of Isaiah the prophet, we must ask ourselves how to make our society reflect our deepest held values. And people across the globe are no longer leaving that to leaders. They are taking it into their own hands and not waiting for politicians and talking heads. Israel is beginning a critical conversation about what an equitable society has to look like today.
As the summer of tents nears its end, let’s hope this spirit of public engagement continues and let’s hope that leaders catch on and catch up. We’re looking for more inspiration from our leadership, and if we don’t get it, we’re going to do something about it ourselves. And for some good reading, take a look at an impressive report put out by the Jewish Agency on how we can achieve change (www.makomsummerprotests.wordpress.com).
Dr. Misha Galperin is President & CEO of the Jewish Agency International
September 8, 2011