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Tel Aviv Demonstration Was More Like a Scouts Meeting

Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher
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The anti-government demonstration in Kaplan street in central Tel Aviv, on Saturday.
The anti-government demonstration in Kaplan street in central Tel Aviv, on Saturday.Credit: Moti Milrod
Rogel Alpher
Rogel Alpher

The organizers of the recent demonstration on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv deserve praise. Their excellent organizational ability, including raising significant funds to pay for the demonstration against the regime’s overhaul, was evident. The entire affair was well run.

Huge screens scattered the length of the street between Azrieli Junction and Ibn Gvirol Street displayed film clips, edited well and professionally, as the crowd assembled, waiting for the start of the speeches. In the clips, people could be heard delivering the liberal narrative against the regime’s revolution in concise sound bites. The powerful loudspeakers blared a playlist of 90s hits: Machina’s horrible “Why Do I Need Politics Now,” with its always surprisingly superficial old joke about “Shamir and Parsley” – yes, that’s what the song has to say about Yitzhak Shamir (Shamir, a reference to the late Israeli prime minister, is the Hebrew word for dill) – and singer Hemi Rudner shouting “a person to sleep with, to spend the night with,” and Rage Against the Machine declaring that they fucking won’t do what they’re told to.

The current round of protests by the liberal anti-Bibi camp – after the 2011 protests and the Balfour Street protests – is characterized by some kind of return through the Time Tunnel to the days of the Oslo Accords, a nostalgia for the sense of hegemony (which was of course false, blind and naive) of the period preceding the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. A soundtrack is always symbolic of an era.

The stage in the junction seemed to be waiting for singer Aviv Gefen to arrive. Meanwhile, the organizers provided a social activity, like at a Scouts meeting. The bass drum (another 90s symbol, this time from electronic music) accompanied the leaders as they led the crowd with chants of “de-moc-ra-cy!” which were meant to instill urgency and sound as though they were making threatening demands, but mainly succeeded in helping everyone keep the beat.

The loudspeaker system informed those present that the participants included a mixture of individuals from all the tribes of Israel, including Ethiopian immigrants, new immigrants, religious and right-wingers. The declaration was repeated several times in the course of the evening by various speakers, like a kind of mantra on a page of talking points.

I looked around: Not a single Ethiopian immigrant, nor any new immigrants. Nobody who identified in any way as right-wing. For an hour and a half I noticed only one kippa-wearer pass me by. In all my wanderings and searching I found a homogeneous audience: White left-wingers who tended towards the upper end of the age scale. At certain points I felt I was surrounded by the same older Ashkenazi audience that one encounters in the theater, at a Philharmonic concert, at a Cathedra lecture in Tel Aviv’s Eretz Israel Museum.

It was an event without energy. Without enthusiasm. Without electricity. There was something indolent and smiling. The speakers didn’t provide fuel for the struggle – it’s not good when the speakers at a demonstration are boring. Again and again they explained to us why we had assembled and what we want. We know. That’s why we came.

There was a discordant feeling that by means of the film clips and the Scouts-like activity the organizers were trying to instill ideology. There’s no need. That should be reserved for the public that didn’t show up for the demonstration. And a very large number of people didn’t show up.

Even on a Saturday night it was evident that Tel Aviv didn’t stop. The restaurants operated as usual. In many windows in residential buildings the lights were on and a family’s routine could be glimpsed, televisions on. In addition to the fact that there will also be need for a civic rebellion (as the organizers said, thereby providing the only shot in the arm of the evening), there is need for a change in the style of the demonstrations – there must be determination in the eyes of the demonstrators.

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