Taking to the Streets

26 January 2023
Protestors at demonstration

As nearly 130,000 people made their way to protest in Tel Aviv last Saturday, with another 6,000 in Haifa and 4,000 in Jerusalem, the question we should all be asking (in the Jewish tradition) is: what makes this moment, this protest, different from the rest? 

The answer lies in the diversity of attendees, which demonstrates the urgency of the moment. Netanyahu’s government has begun to execute its extreme right-wing agenda, threatening the rights of women, Palestinians, and the LGBTQ+ community, to name a few. As such, protesting has become personal for increasingly high percentages of the population, leading people of all ages and backgrounds to come together in the streets. In fact, the number of attendees at the Saturday evening protests has been growing every week, as has the number of locations.

In other words, for NIF, 2023 is about strengthening the “big tent.” The “big tent” concept emphasizes focusing on the core issues and elevating collaboration rather than just cooperation. One Shatil employee who has been attending the protest each week related that the number of people in the streets is inspiring, especially when you consider the variety of perspectives who have joined together under the shared goal of demanding democracy.

Tami Yakira, Shatil’s Coordinator for Social Change in Human rights, says that the objective now Is to grow the infrastructure for this big tent which can engage people who are focused on all types of issues, from women’s rights to anti-corruption, from the anti-occupation bloc to fighting the “override clause” – a mechanism that would enable the Knesset to override the supreme court, and thus the Basic Laws, with a simple majority vote.

Tami has been involved with organizing the 2023 protests since the first demonstration on Saturday, January 7. “The moment is ripe, and people are motivated, so now my work is to maintain momentum and growth,” she explained. On the most fundamental level, her day-to-day work is focused on coordinating digital and in-person forums for the myriad groups working together.  “I also get requests from people who are newer to organizing but still want to help out by raising awareness or putting together a protest.” That help can take many forms, she explained, anywhere from tips on designing graphics to gathering potential allies in a WhatsApp group. 

Beyond the behind the scenes coordination and fueling momentum, NIF has been working hands-on with specific protests. Specifically, an NIF emergency grant helped cover some of the costs of permits, loudspeakers, signs, and promotion on social networks for the protest in Be’er Sheva on the 7th.

The people in the streets are also noticing the energy shift, and it’s fueling motivation. “Attending the protest at my university was the first time I have felt hopeful in a while. There’s power in knowing that so many people around me are also ready to fight for democracy,” said one Tel Aviv University student at the protest. Veterans of Israeli protest culture have also noticed a shift; there is less of an emphasis on who is leading and more focus on making space for everyone to represent their own motivation for attending. 

Looking to the future, concluded Tami, the aim is to carry this energy into the long run by strengthening the mentality of collaboration rather than competition between the variety of people involved. “This wave of protests should be about solidarity and generating synergy across groups who may have different priorities but share a vision of a democratic and equal Israel.” 

We’ve seen from other mass mobilizations around the world that when people bring their voices to the streets to disrupt the status quo it can jumpstart the momentum for significant political change. Shatil is very interested in learning from similar movements around the world and has recently begun a blog series on this very phenomenon. While it is too early to identify the long-term impact of the 2023 protests, they are already spreading hope and strengthening solidarity, which are the necessary foundation for larger transformations to come.