Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel's Tent Protests Transition to Next Stage: Political Fight

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Israel's Tent Protests Transition to Next Stage: Political Fight

Article excerpt

A day after their main Tel Aviv encampment was dismantled, it's unclear whether Israel's tent protesters can translate the summer's street momentum into lasting political change.

Some two months after sparking mass demonstrations across Israel, the social protest movement that rattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces an uncertain future as it transitions from the street to the political realm.

The symbol of the protest movement, the tent encampment on Tel Aviv Rothschild Boulevard, was dismantled yesterday by police. Hours later, Mr. Netanyahu tried but failed to convince cabinet ministers to support a package of economic reforms inspired by the protestors.

While the protest movement gathered impressive energy in cities from Tel Aviv to Beersheva, analysts are divided about whether it has the capacity to leave a lasting mark on Israel's government, politics, and economy.

"Even though we had the most impressive turnout in the street, I don't really think the energy and enthusiasm is going to carry over," says Dahlia Scheindlin, an independent pollster and strategist in Tel Aviv, referring to the country's next parliamentary election.

But others disagree.

Protesters changed the dialogue

Over the summer, the protesters succeeded in galvanizing the middle class by demanding government action to counter rising real- estate prices, corporate cartels, and high education costs.

By staying away from foreign-policy issues like the cost of government investment in West Bank settlements, left-wing protesters from the bohemian encampment in Tel Aviv were able to reach across Israel's political divide to many blue-collar backers of Netanyahu.

With such diverse participation, the movement succeeded in shifting Israel's domestic discourse away from an exclusive focus on the conflict with Palestinians, bringing more attention to pocketbook issues.

"They've achieved a lot in terms of changing the dialogue," says Sever Plocker, a columnist at Yediot Ahronot who believes that in lieu of a war or a major peace initiative, demands raised by the protestors will continue to be the focus. "If we assume the geopolitical situation stays the same, socioeconomic issues will top the next election. …

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