Excerpt from my new column at The American Prospect:
… Because the protests are a challenge to the entire political system, politicians have been absent from the list of speakers at demonstrations. On Wednesday, the new movement did suffer an old-fashioned parliamentary defeat: On a straight party-line vote, the Knesset ratified real-estate legislation championed by Netanyahu. The law purportedly cuts bureaucratic barriers to building housing—and in fact reduces citizens’ power to challenge developers’ plans. …
Then again, the fact that the opposition, including Tzipi Livni’s centrist Kadima Party, opposed the legislation as a bloc is a partial victory for the protesters. In the past, some of Kadima’s legislators might well have cast “aye” votes. Livni herself is a former corporate lawyer, and in her first political position oversaw privatization of government companies.
Today, many politicians are seeking the protesters’ favor. On Tuesday night, at a demonstration on the hill overlooking the Knesset building, I found two Kadima members of the Knesset standing in the shadows at the edges of the crowd, like high schoolers uncertain they had been invited to a dance. “Even capitalist America, whom we all respected, is in a state of economic collapse,” Knesset Member Shlomo Molla told me. “Why? Because it exalted the wealthy, it sanctified capitalism.”
I asked Molla’s colleague from Kadima, Nachman Shai, how the party should respond to the protests. We “have to decode well what’s happening here and adopt a line of government involvement in the economy, not of piggish capitalism,” Shai answered. But he admitted he had no idea of the political impact of the sudden revolt. “Maybe there will be new parties,” he said. “Just as no one knew this would start, no one knows where it will lead.”
In fact, if they don’t quickly bend Netanyahu’s policies, the protests might ebb for a time. But Israeli politics has also proven that crises can have long-delayed effects. When the Netanyahu’s Likud Party lost the 1999 national election, a leading figure in the party admitted that the defeat expressed backlash over the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin even though the Likud had narrowly won an earlier election a few months after Rabin was murdered. Even if the tents vanish from Rothschild Boulevard, the tidal wave of economic anger will not have passed. In the meantime, more rallies are planned for this Saturday night, and a new Facebook page promotes Daphni Leef, the woman who started it all, for prime minister.
Read the full column here.