Two summers ago, more than half a million Israelis – the equivalent of more than 5 million Germans – filled the squares and streets of cities around the country to peacefully call for social justice. They will not do so again. It is not because their demands have been answered or because they have despaired of change. They will not do so again because such protests are unique events in history, an outcome of a rare confluence of circumstances. But even if the masses will not return to the squares, their impact on society will be transformative.
The Israeli summer of 2011 might one day look like the summer of 1968. Like the protesters of that summer 43 years earlier, the Israeli protesters were part of a global movement of young people. They inspired some hope for change, but much criticism for their immature, utopian and unclear ideals. Their elders nodded their head at these fancies of youth, lamenting the inability of the young to understand the world its tough realities, even labeling them whiny.
Politically, the protests of the summer of 2011, like those of 1968, were a failure. After 1968, almost everywhere the protests ushered in a generation of conservative and even repressive governments, whether it was a string of Republican presidents in the US, conservative governments in Europe, military juntas in Latin America, and greater repression in eastern Europe and China. In Israel, the elections of 2013, while enabling some of the leaders of the protest movement to enter into politics, ushered in a politically and economically conservative government. This is without mentioning the repressive religious regimes and civil wars that have come to the Middle East in the wake of the revolutions of the Arab Spring.
But socially, the protests of the summer of 2011 will one day be recognized, just as have those of 1968, as the moment when society began to change. The 68’ers had an impact on society far greater than those who dismissed their long hair and ripped jeans would have believed. Their hippie ideals of peace, freedom from repression, human rights, equality of men and women, blacks and whites, gays and straights, personal liberty and freedom, and the care for the environments have become the dominant values of their societies. The children and grandchildren of those who have called for recognition of east Germany live in a unified Germany and their brethren in Prague now live in an eastern Europe free from Soviet repression, part of a peaceful European Union.
The 2011 protest values of true democracy, transparency, social justice and equity for the 99%, political accountability and involvement, solidarity and a society of duties as well as rights, are also likely to one day become the dominant values of our society. Israelis are waking up to the manner in which special interests are distorting their democracy and the allocation of public resources. They are fighting to receive their fair share of the country’s natural resources. They are demanding that the wealthy be upheld to the same standards as all. They are seeking to shape a society informed not only by the western discourse of rights, but also the Jewish tradition of duties. They are engaging more directly with their politicians, demanding more transparency and accountability. And decades from now, one can even hope to see democracies in the Arab world.
The protesters of the summer of 2011 in Israel inspired much hope, as well as criticism. The history of 1968 teaches us that even if they will not be back in the streets anytime soon, the protests of 2011 will justify the hopes placed in them, far more than the criticism.