The numbers are unimportant. Last Saturday saw between 200,000 and 300,000 demonstrators taking to the streets to march for social justice. This Saturday brought out what some say were too few protesters, or at least fewer than expected. But in any case, what has happened over the last few weeks is one of the greatest shows of public strength seen since the establishment of the state of Israel. The Israeli nation is demanding change, and the government must, in turn, engage in discourse with the people.
While the prime minister and his officials seek to solve the problems that initially pushed the people into the streets, they seem along the way to have forgotten the most important thing: dialogue. Setting up committees and presenting possible solutions, as good as these initiatives are, is simply not enough.
The leadership must engage with the masses, so as to enable the nation to play an active role in formulating solutions. They must be included in the actual process.
There is some truth in the accusation that protest leaders don't seem to know exactly what they want. If they are engaged, they will surely at first make childlike demands, such as their previous call to conduct on-camera negotiations with the prime minister. It is also true that as protesters and not decision makers, they do not have a strategic nationwide vision regarding Israel's current situation.
This does not, however, justify the widening chasm between the leadership and the nation. This protest is not "nonsense," as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was quoted as saying. The protesters are not attending the protests simply to see the artists performing there, as a senior Likud member insisted. The tents on Rothschild Boulevard are not "there to be there," as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has said.
Instead of repeatedly mentioning the strength and resistance of the coalition, the leadership must come closer to the people, listen to them, "count them in." At a time when the nation's streets are surging with demonstrators, the resistance and stability of the coalition should not be a point of pride -- as many state officials are presenting it to be -- but rather a badge of shame.
International media outlets covering the events in Israel are asking if the protests here resemble those across the Arab world in the last few months, or to the riots and looting that swept the streets of London last week.
There are many differences between those protests and ours. The main difference, of course, is that the Arab countries have not had democratic governments. These countries retain regimes that are disconnected from, and unaccountable to, the people. Here in Israel things are different, almost a polar opposite, where in recent years the result has been governments that rose and fell at a rate that is completely unreasonable.
The marked difference between the violent riots that have overtaken the U.K. and our own non-violent demonstrations can only stand as a mark of distinction. Yet this does not mean that the government can, or should, disregard the protesters.
The current protests in Israel are not intended to bring about a change of government, yet as the days pass, the Israeli leadership continues to seem disconnected from the nation. Its conduct, as absurd as it is, only serves to fan the flames of social upheaval. Even if the government's intentions are noble, and even if the leadership wants in earnest to change and adapt in relation to the demands made of it, officials are actually pushing themselves further away from their constituents.
The path to consolidating solutions passes through discourse with the people -- not imposing solutions on them, but rather coming together to figure them out. The government has no problem engaging in dialogue with influential pressure groups such as radical ideologues and the extremely wealthy. Now the leadership must also engage with the newly awake masses.