As Tel Aviv tent city folds, Israel activists debate next step
The tent camp along one of Tel Aviv’s trendiest streets that symbolized a large-scale social protest movement is coming down, leaving some to wonder if it was all just a summer fling.
As more sections of the Rothschild Boulevard camp were dismantled Wednesday, protesters tried to keep spirits up, saying the tents may be folding but their efforts are not. The time has come, they said, to move to the next phase of their social justice movement.
City officials have been pushing the process forward. City workers came Tuesday with red roses and conciliatory notes asking for cooperation in dismantling the camp by the Jewish New Year, three weeks away. The kitchen already has been dismantled and the portable toilets have been removed.
The utopian experiment of the last seven weeks recently seemed to be fraying. Camp debates were still respectful and civilized, but raised voices crept in. Power struggles emerged, particularly over whether protesters should cooperate with a government commission seeking to address their concerns about housing prices and the high cost of living.
At the campsite Tuesday, a wooden door was propped up against a tree, on it a red handwritten inscription: “Way to go Rothschild! And now what?”
After rallies Saturday night across the country that drew an estimated half a million people, among the largest demonstrations ever in Israel, many people were asking the same question. And they were divided on the answer.
Tomer Mintz was rolling up banners this week. “The tents made a huge impact, above and beyond expectations, but they’ve maxed out. It’s time to continue the struggle by other means,” the 31-year-old activist said.
Some of the student leaders behind the original protest say the time has come to give the committee set up by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a chance. The head of the committee is economics professor Manuel Trachtenberg, former head of Israel’s National Economic Council. He has met with protest leaders who approached him with a list of demands, and also with members of the public.
But, in a sign of its distrust of the government, the protest movement has established an alternate committee to make its own recommendations.
Some protesters said they felt betrayed and were trying to replace the tents the city removed. Others questioned the timing of the dismantling, particularly after the large Saturday demonstrations.
“This is no time to go, not after such a show of strength,” said Dror Shalom, 35, an unemployed upholsterer. “We haven’t achieved anything yet.”
At times the movement was criticized as a “protest of the fortunate,” which drew a young, academic, and middle-class crowd. Thinning out before Wednesday’s partial eviction, the camp revealed the other faces of the protest: people with nowhere else to go.
Some of the more hip tent-dwellers vowed to stick with their poorer partners.
Shalom said that sense of solidarity was essential to the movement.
“Without the Rothschild camp, no one will give these people a second look,” he said. “Rothschild is the symbol; if it folds, the protest will fold with it.”
Sobelman is a news assistant in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau.
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