Not a care in the world
It's alarming that fashionable residents of Tel Aviv can remain so detached from the ongoing conflict on their doorstep.
Seth Freedman, The Guardian, October 13, 2007
Friday lunchtime in the upmarket strip of Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv, is like walking onto the set of a Vogue shoot. Every girl strutting by looks like Nicole Scherzinger, reminiscent of the restaurant scene in Being John Malkovich where the entire room is filled with clones of the balding actor, and seeing and being seen is the only thing on their minds. People sprawl on sofas outside cafes, eyes hidden behind aviator lenses and mobiles perma-clamped to their ears as they while away the opening act of another weekend's laconic performance.
Today, right in the heart of the whole show, a small group of earnest activists gathered around a cluster of olive trees on the corner of Ben Gurion and Dizengoff, hoping to draw the masses' attention to their heartfelt protest. Organised by the Coalition of Women for Peace, they were marking the opening of the olive harvest season by performing a symbolic reaping in the heart of Tel Aviv from trees they claim were stolen from Palestinians.
Their cause was just, their aims were true, but they never stood a chance when it came to waking the beautiful people from their apathetic slumber. Part of the problem was that they were hidden from view by exactly the trees that formed the centrepiece of their demonstration, meaning most of the passers-by didn't have a clue that any kind of action was taking place yards from where they walked.
However, even those who sat eating their lunch at the outdoor tables on the same strip of the boulevard were utterly uninterested in what was going on next to them. Turning their noses up at the flyers being proffered by the hopeful protesters, they went straight back to admiring one another's clothes and fawning over their latest partners. They were, as Alex put it, "far too busy being agonisingly beautiful to worry about Palestinians' trees being nicked."
I went olive picking with a similar group in the West Bank last year, and I'm full of admiration for those dedicated to aiding the Palestinian farmers. At the same time, however, they must have known today's exercise was doomed to fail in terms of rallying public support for their cause. This generation of bourgeois Tel Aviv residents just doesn't care - and the lack of interest is endemic the length and breadth of Israel.
For a country that used to brim over with political activists and protestors, the speed with which the youth have turned indifferent and lethargic is as alarming as it is dangerous. Alarming, because it shows how swiftly a state founded on zealousness and enthusiasm can morph into just another lackadaisical westernised country. Dangerous, because the majority's ennui leaves a vacuum in the political sphere which the extremists are only too eager to fill with their own beliefs.
In Israel's case, it is the right wing who have seized on the opportunity quickest and most effectively. I said as much in a recent piece when considering whether anything was likely to stop the settlement juggernaut, and - on the strength of today's performance - the malaise has set in deeper than I first thought. Watching the complete disdain with which the public treated a serious political protest shocked me, given the gravity of the conflict that has engulfed these Israelis their whole lives.
If they were forced to think about the issue of the IDF wantonly destroying Palestinian olive groves in order to annex their land, most of the Dizengoff diners would likely express some sympathy for the farmers' plight on a humane level. However, it's precisely because they're too busy with their cappuccinos and tuna salads that they don't ever get made to address what's happening on their own doorstep.
The right wing knows this, and capitalises on it in spades. When they put on a protest - such as the incendiary march I went on during the summer - they do so knowing full well there won't be a counter protest by their opponents. They're also gradually wresting control of the army too, with 45% of officers now coming from the "knitted kippa" religious Zionist camp.
And, like it or not, their ability to play the game is paying off big time. As reported in the Guardian this week, the expansionist policies of the government are continuing unchecked; the stranglehold of the security wall is still firmly in effect; and the punitive measures taken against the Gazans are barely opposed by the people on the Israeli street.
That doesn't mean to say that the left wing isn't alive and kicking. It is - all of today's protestors will doubtless spend much time over the next few months getting their hands dirty as they help the Palestinians gather their crops. Likewise, the grassroots projects of the likes of Machsom Watch, Yesh Gvul and their counterparts will continue at their usual pace, helping the people who really matter at the heart of the issue.
But the dispiriting spectacle I witnessed today in the heart of uptown Tel Aviv leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. The silence of the majority leaves the field wide open for the fervent and dedicated minority to impose their will on the political course that the country charts. I genuinely don't believe that most of Israel's citizens want to pursue a path of war, intolerance, expansionism and injustice, regardless of how many times readers tell me just that on the threads.
What I do believe, instead, is that too many Israelis - especially amongst the younger generation - have just stopped caring. The post-army opium-trail through the far east quickly detaches them from what they've witnessed during their national service, and by the time they come back to reality they're too busy with their own career and bettering their own status to care about the conflict. And when the only olives they care about are the ones adorning their fettucine alfredo, all the flyers in the world aren't going to paper over the cracks in their consciences.