Listen to the Language: The Young People's Protest of 2011

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In this op-ed, Dafna Gruber, Head of IDI's Young Leadership Forum, reflects on the wave of social protest in the summer of 2011, and points to what it reveals about the nature of young people in Israel today. She expresses her admiration for the young leaders of the protest, and encourages both the general population and the government to take heed of their messages when formulating long-term solutions for the state and its residents.

We are all marveling at an unprecedented social phenomenon in Israel's history—a protest unparalleled in its scope, authenticity, strength, and the speed at which it is sweeping up hundreds of thousands of people. Its intensity transmits a deep and sincere message and casts great responsibility on the nation's leaders.

Daphni Leef, organizer of the housing protest, certainly never imagined how far her initiative would go. She and her friends are motivated by pure motives, propelled by a sense of suffocation with no hope for relief, and driven by a feeling that the government must be called to task. They seek to remind us all that the people are sovereign; the people give elected officials the power to rule for a limited amount of time, and the people mandate the government to manage the affairs of state on their behalf while being subject to public scrutiny. If the elected officials fulfill this task faithfully, they will be re-elected; if not, others will take their place.

Even before the first cracks begin to appear, creating rifts between the many protest organizers regarding the path and priorities of the struggle, it is worth noting something new in this current wave of protest. Beyond the essential demands, which are justified, it is important to note the language that is being used by the young protestors. Their speech is fluent, bright, and clear. The expressions they are using—terms like "listening," "inclusion," "social solidarity," "common social rights," "social justice," and "a respectable living"—are new and refreshing; we should not underestimate their importance or contribution to public discourse.

A surprising fact is emerging before our very eyes: an entire generation that was vilified as being apathetic, is emerging as empathetic, intelligent, and having healthy instincts for justice. It is being revealed as a generation that wants to change our social priorities and return us to our basic values. These young people seek to change our consciousness and transmit a message of love, after years of sowing hatred of anyone who is different in any way. They wish to foster familiarity, discourse, and dialogue between people, rather than the fear and alienation commonly used as barter in political speeches aimed at winning support. This is a generation that seeks to redefine Israel's social contract, to build trust, and create full transparency between itself and the government. This is a generation that is telling the government loudly and clearly: Make no mistake—it is the government that is bound to serve the people, not the other way around.

It is important, worthwhile, and desirable to let these messages sink into our minds for a bit longer so that they can be internalized and guide us in formulating long-term solutions for the state and its residents. It is important, worthwhile, and desirable to avoid the temptation of quick fixes, which only put out fires and create quiet for the government.


Dafna Gruber is the head of IDI's Young Leadership Forum.