Politicians at the Edge of the Crowd, Unsure They Belong

Gershom Gorenberg

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.

1 thought on “Politicians at the Edge of the Crowd, Unsure They Belong”

  1. Ok, fine–I didn’t go away. The hope is too good to let go.

    On the blog +972 I saw a short video of a former Israeli rock star, now religious, singing a famous song of hers at a reduced baby stroller rally. Being Shabbat, she said she could not play guitar, but she could sing; another, able to play that day, accompanied her on his guitar.

    Such acts are as important as group formation and maintenace: the reaching out across groups, keeping one’s identity, but saying others are too. Such acts must multiply if new coalitions, and through coalitions, new ways, are to be articulated. As our two hosts know and say, the settlers do not monoploize faith. Group bridges are fundamental to altering the politcal scape. And one may remain silent on some issues until bridges have a realized political outcome.

    But I think a new party, or redefined old one, based on social justice may simply recur divisions over time. So, yes, I’m going to say it again: look for a colation towards advocating a constitutional covention. A convention is open ended and may thereby build a significant coalition. You risk yourself in such a call, unlike party advocacy for “my/our way.” A political party with this as its goal invites the disenfranchised to participate. And this does not preclude having planks upon what the constitution should be.

    Ultimately, the politics of occupation will again (try to) enforce silence. A constitution would shift the game evermore–if you have a High Court you can believe in, even when it rules against your hopes. This is a chance to shift the game without controlling the shift; that takes real courage.

    Socio-economic relief for the protestors and their polled allies will in anycase be long delayed. A party which calls for a convention as a fundamental plank seeks to keep discussion rolling.

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