The pretzel man was offering three for 10 shekels. On his crate there was an “Elections Now” sign, and apparently he thought this would promote sales. The peddler’s protest was no different from that of the tens of thousands of Israelis who finally left their homes and indifference and came out to the square. Under the lowest common denominator in town – “Olmert, go home” – they expressed confusion and a loss of way. Though this belated awakening deserves praise, its content deserves condemnation.
The demonstrators testified as 100,000 witnesses: Israeli society is continuing to look for the lost coin under the lantern, and not in the right place. “We are a flock seeking a shepherd,” said the moderator of the event, Osnat Vishinsky, whose son was killed in the Gaza Strip, aptly defining the shepherdless flock of demonstrators that until only yesterday wrapped itself in the silence of the lambs or in cries of “hooray for the war,” and was now applauding her words.
What did the masses want? “Olmert, go home.” Is this an aim or only a means? And when Olmert goes home, what exactly will happen? Not one word was said about this. The ranks must be maintained. This also applies to the other unifying slogan, “Elections Now.” And what will happen after the elections? The opposition leader, Likud MK Benjamin Netanyahu. One Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will be replaced by another prime minister who resembles him. Is that what this crowd wants?
When the loudspeakers played “The Children of Winter, 1973,” it was impossible not to recall an earlier demonstration: “candle youth” in the square, lighting memorial candles, crying and singing and not saying anything. “An Entire Generation Wants Peace,” and what did that generation do? It lit candles. And it is also possible to recall the square that was empty during the 33 days of the war, at a time when it was possible and necessary to go out and demonstrate against it and still manage to salvage something. But then hardly anyone came, except for a courageous handful from the radical left.
This protest is just as hollow as the leadership against which it is aimed. Bereaved parents mourned their children from the stage, but no one suggested how to prevent the next war. A mass demonstration that had called for conducting peace talks with Syria, ending the occupation or responding positively to the Saudi initiative is what could have really prevented killing, but this is not on the agenda of this shallow protest. Courage is needed for that, and the masses won’t come. “Steaks for the air force but no water, weaponry and ammunition for the infantry,” read one placard, expressing the sentiment that was felt here more than anything else: The last war was not managed properly. Had it only been managed properly, had we only killed and not been killed, there would have been no demonstration.
Why, for example, is there no protest against the Israel Defense Forces? After all, the Winograd report, which was cheered here, determined that the chief of staff and the IDF led the government by the nose with false promises about the war. But the IDF stands above any protest. Why? And why is there no protest against the use of war as the first means in Israel’s arsenal of responses? Why is there no protest against the destruction and killing we sowed in Lebanon? Or against the image of Israel as a warmongering state that lives by its sword?
No real rage was evinced at this demonstration, and even the unity it depicted was a cloying mirage. Meretz MK Yossi Beilin and National Union-National religious Party MK Effie Eitam united in the exhortation to come to the square, another fake call for reconciliation, because there is nothing that can unite the two of them, not even a thousand cries of “Olmert, go home.” The organizers wanted a demonstration “without politicians,” and with whom will we be left? With Uzi Dayan, himself a politician who failed in the elections? And perhaps with Arcadi Gaydamak, another “opponent of politicians”?
How easy it is to be against politicians and for the people, and how dangerous. The darkest movements in history arose because of that. In the city square perhaps the beginning of a public awakening was born, after the long, accursed years of coma. This should be welcomed. The problem is that with such a flabby, confused and belated protest Olmert can continue quietly to toil away in his chair. And even if not, so what?