The demonstration last Saturday night in downtown Jerusalem, during which protesters shouted for a revolution (ma-ah-peh-cha) as the cure for privatization (hafrata), felt more like a carnival than a protest march. Sophisticated, ironic and funny slogans and signs created the ambience of clever middle class folks having fun dumping on the government.
A sign on the tent camp downtown where the march began read Knesset Ha’am (The People’s Knesset.) The camp is next door to the building that served as Israel’s first Knesset until 1966. Knesset Ha’am is also a play on Beit Ha’am, The People’s House, a municipal community center two blocks away on Bezalel Street. In the tent camp young protesters prepared signs. “I don’t have money for felafel” made me laugh, as did one poster with three scenes: a mother pushing a baby in a carriage; the same baby at 25 being pushed in a carriage; the tired mom pushing her 35-year old son in a carriage. That reminded me of another poster from last week’s “carriage march” in Tel Aviv protesting the exorbitant costs of raising children: “Grandma Is Not A Bank”
At the Jerusalem march one young family put a sign on their baby’s carriage: NIS 3,000.
Upon questioning, the father told me this is the cost of day care (7:30-4) for kids under three. This family has two kids under three. Both parents work and like so many at the march, they can’t afford living in Israel.
Many of the signs and slogans played on the lyrics of children’s songs. Ema yikara li… (Mother is dear to me.) is as Israeli as Hatikva. The sign stating Ha’medina yakara li plays on the double meaning of yakara: dear and expensive. “The state is dear and expensive for me.”
In the popular children’s alef-beit (ABC) song, aleph stands for ohel (tent) and beit stants for bayit (house.) But in the slogan, sign and protest t-shirt, beit, which everyone knows stands for house, stands for ohel (tent). Sadly, young people cannot afford to buy their own homes in the current economy ruled by a few tycoon families. This makes the tent cities a perfect concretization of the people’s economic distress.
Another slogan was a play on the root tzadi, dalet, kuf. “We want Tzedek (justice), not Tzdaka (hand-outs). What kind of justice? Tzedek hevrati (Social justice.) When do we want it? NOW!” Isaiah Amos Jeremiah and Micah were probably kvelling in their own tent cities in the sky.
(Rothschild Boulevard, the street in Tel Aviv where the Israeli Summer Protest Movement began, has been renamed by the tent dwellers there to “If I Were a Rothschild Boulevard.”)
The tent protest has reached even the small middle class town of Mevasseret Zion, home to Israeli Finance Minister Steinitz. The protesters there named the encampment “Steinitz Oasis.” A sign leaving Mevasseret reads: “Steinitz, drive safely. (The gas is on us!)”
If the movement sweeping the country really turns from carnival to revolution, I hope the creativity behind the slogans will be as prevalent at the discussions for finding solutions to Israel’s social and economic morass. Notice I don’t say “political.” Protesters are trying to stay clear of political messages. I saw only one last Saturday night. It read: Disband Settlements To Build the (Jewish) State