RABIN SQUARE in Tel Aviv has seen many demonstrations, but none quite like last Saturday's.
It has nothing to do with the event which gave the
square its name: the huge rally for peace at the end of which Yitzhak
Rabin was assassinated. It was different in every respect.
Last year's upheaval was quite unplanned. A young woman, Daphni Leef, could not pay her rent and so she put up a small tent in Rothschild Boulevard, five minutes' walk from Rabin Square. She had obviously struck a chord, because within days hundreds of tents had sprung up in the boulevard and all over the country. It ended in a huge demonstration, called the "March of Half a Million," which led to the setting up of a government commission, which made a list of suggestions to relieve social injustice. Only a small fraction of them were put into practice.
The whole effort called itself "apolitical," rebuffed politicians of all stripes, and resolutely refused to deal with any national problem such as peace (what's that?), occupation, settlements and such.
All decisions were made by an anonymous leadership grouped around Daphni. Some of the names became known, others did not. The masses who took part were quite content to accept their dictates.
NO MORE. This year's new initiative has no obvious leadership at all. There was no central tribune, no central speakers. It resembled London's Hyde Park Corner, where anyone can climb on a chair and preach his or her gospel. Each group had its own stand where its flyers were displayed, each had its own name, its own agenda, its own speakers and its own guides (since we should not call them leaders).
Since the square is big and the audience amounted to some thousands, it worked. Many different -- and some contradictory - versions of social justice were advocated, from a group called "Revolution of Love" (everybody should love everybody) to a group of anarchists (all governments are bad, elections are bad too).
They all agreed only on one point: they were all "apolitical", all shrank back from the taboo subjects (see above).
Gideon Levy called the scene "chaotic" and was immediately attacked by the protesters as lacking understanding (with a hint that he was too old to understand.) Chaos is wonderful. Chaos is real democracy. It gives the people their voice back. There are no leaders who steal and exploit the protest for their own careers and egos. It's the way the New Generation expresses itself.
IT ALL reminded me of a happy period -- the 60s of the last century, when almost none of this week's protesters was yet born, or even "in the planning stage"' (as Israelis like to put it).
At the time, Paris was seized by a passion for social and political protest. There was no common ideology, no unified vision of a new social order. At the Odeon theatre an endless and uninterrupted debate was going on, day after day, while outside, demonstrators threw cobblestones at the police, who beat them up with the leaden seams of their overcoats. Everyone was elated, it was clear that a new epoch in human history had begun.
Claude Lanzmann, the secretary of Jean-Paul Sartre and lover of Simone de Beauvoir, and who later directed the monumental film "Shoah," described the atmosphere to me like this: "The students burnt the cars in the streets. In the evenings I parked my car at distant places. But one evening I told myself: What the hell, what do I need a car for? Let them burn it!"
But while the Left was talking, the Right gathered its forces under Charles de Gaulle, a million Rightists marched down the Champs Elisees. The protest petered out, leaving only a vague longing for a better world.
The protest was not limited to Paris. Its spirit infected many other cities and countries. In lower Manhattan, youth reigned supreme. Provocative posters were sold in the streets of the Village, young men and women wore humorous buttons on their chests.
On the whole, the vague movement had vague results. Without a concrete agenda, it had no concrete results. De Gaulle fell some time later for other reasons. In the US, the people elected Richard Nixon. In public consciousness, some things changed, but for all the revolutionary talk, there was no revolution.