Nearly two months ago, I was asked to preach in our congregation. I decided to give a message on the “Gospel and Cottage Cheese” by using the parable of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” reflecting on economic and social injustice. The cost of cottage cheese had shot up to 8 NIS ($2.30) for a 250g container, leading to a nationwide protest, which started on Facebook and eventually forced dairy producers to lower the price. As most of the congregants are hardworking, middle-class individuals who are financially struggling, I alluded to the fact that we should not be surprised that a phenomenon like the “Arab Spring” (the recent wave of demonstrations and protests across the Middle East) could also happen in Israel.
Just two weeks ago, 300,000 Israelis took to the streets to protest the high cost of living in proportion to their low salaries. Economically, there is a gap in society as a small percentage of the wealthy control the markets and the middle class is struggling to survive. This protest resembles the Arab Spring in that the protesters are young, educated individuals who earn a decent salary, but at the end of the day, can barely afford rent and the increasing prices of food; indeed, most will never be able to afford purchasing a home.
The most interesting thing about the “Israeli Summer” is that this protest emerged from small grassroots groups that united together looking out for the interests of the greater society. This time, student groups were not only advocating tuition cuts, but also opposing other injustices present in society. Most of the organizers and leaders are young men and women who are taking upon themselves the responsibility and task of leadership, and coming across as very strong and capable in doing so. As we watch the next generation of Israelis become the movers and shakers of this society, we hope that it will also lead to a shift on the political level.
The “Israeli Summer” is not only about social justice. More importantly, the leaders are calling Israeli Jews to reexamine the dynamics, direction, and moral values of the country. They are encouraging the people to ask themselves what kind of country they want to live in and to demand this of their political leaders and of themselves. I believe it will be these leaders who will reevaluate Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians.
As a grassroots movement, Musalaha invests much time and many resources in training youth, young adults and women in leadership and change implementation from the bottom up. We pray and hope that the young leaders of the “Israeli Summer” will take the opportunity to address the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian situation, which is causing the societies to move in a more violent direction. We have a golden opportunity to make real and impacting change. This gives us hope and encourages us to continue what we do.
As young leaders and citizens of this country realize the power and influence they hold and the effects of peaceful demonstrations, it is our hope and prayer that just as they are now able to call hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets to demand social justice, they will one day work for peace.
By Salim J. Munayer