The Israeli j14 Social Protests: Why We Should Care

On Saturday, August 6, over 300, 000 protestors took to the streets throughout Israel to express dissatisfaction with a slate of socioeconomic issues affecting the poor and middle classes. The protests had already been ongoing for several weeks before this mass rally, but have recently taken a break due to terror attacks in the south. Tomorrow, the protestors are coming back with a vengeance, hoping for 1,000,000 Israelis to hit the pavement in support of their cause.

I joined a small but passionate solidarity group of Israeli citizens in New York City’s Times Square during the last big protest. Several of my young characters in “Battle for Jerusalem” have been involved in the recent protests as part of their struggle to keep the city thriving in the face of many social and economic challenges. I sent a cameraman to film the events in Israel that night, but I also wanted to support them from afar.

Our group was not nearly as large as the one on the streets of Tel Aviv, but it was fueled by typical Israeli chutzpah. Who else would set up camping tents on a busy Saturday night in the middle of iconic Times Square? Still, I began to wonder why the group was so small, given all the Jewish, Israeli, and social justice organizations in New York City. And why have the American press and even the American Jewish community spent so little time discussing these major happenings in Israel?

Our Times Square Solidarity Protest

A cynical part of me remembered the old newspaper mantra, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and fortunately there has been no blood spilled at these protests. Maybe it’s also because America is going through our own economic crisis, and we can’t be bothered with that of another country. Some Americans have said that they won’t support a protest spearheaded by Jewish Israelis that doesn’t directly address quality of life for the Palestinians.  I think it mainly comes down to this: many of us just don’t know or understand what the protests are about. We haven’t seen a clear list of demands from the protestors and aren’t sure how or why to support them.

Here’s what I do know, and why I feel like these protests are worth paying attention to.

Roughly 1 in 20 Israelis were on the streets that Saturday—the equivalent of over 15 million Americans. The movement is largely youth led, and young people are worth listening to because their presence in the country is essential to Israel’s economy, security, and stability. If they move abroad because they can’t afford to live in Israel, then America’s strongest ally in the Middle East becomes much more vulnerable.

While the number of protestors is unprecedented, this tension has been building for years, and the protests are only the beginning. The characters in my film form some of the country’s young leadership, and they have already been working on related issues for some time—helping young people get jobs, educate their children, and meet basic needs when government policy has not always been in their favor.

One of the main social and political youth movements in Jerusalem is called “Hitorerut,” which translates to “Awakening,” in reference to their encouragement of fellow citizens to reject apathy and take action toward their own welfare. As one of the Israeli protestors in New York said, “We are just so relieved that Israeli society has finally woken up from its indifference and realized that we have more to deal with than just security issues.”

Though we may be unsure about the core goals of the protests, I suggest that those Americans who care about Israel join the protestors at least in recognizing the country has many challenges beyond security. Pay attention to the news, join one of the protest info groups on Facebook, follow the @j14ENG translated tweets on Twitter, and ask your Israeli friends what’s going on in the streets. As the dust settles from the protests and process of real change begins, it is sure to be an interesting period that will influence the country’s future.

P.S. If you’re in NY, there’s another, bigger solidarity protest demonstration in Washington Square Park tomorrow at 2:00 pm.