Many of you dear readers have continued to ask me (via our site email address) for updates on the protests in Israel so I will file one this morning from here in Ashdod. Last Thursday night, my wife and I along with our friends Yael and Uri went to the first annual Ashdod ‘Goldstar’ festival–a festival that was supposed to feature a few of Israel’s hottest singing groups.
For those of you who are not from Israel, Goldstar is a popular beer here, and the venue was beer-themed with booths touting Goldstar, Maccabi, Carlsberg, Hoegarden, Tuborg, Murphy’s Stout, Sam Adams, Heinekin, Wertheimer and others. These were faced by food vendors selling everything from shwarma to Bedouin pita with lebaneh (sour goat yoghurt) to popcorn; there was even a booth named ‘Glida American’ (American Ice Cream).
In any case, we arrived early to stake out a place to sit down on the enclosed grounds beside the beach, grabbed a couple of beers with our friends, and almost immediately, recorded music started blaring from the speakers on the stage in front of us. Shortly thereafter, the first group came on–an Israeli group named The Brownies–with a wonderfully sultry female lead singer who paradoxically had an abundance of energetic pop. All in all, the Brownies sang about 10 songs and warmed up the crowd for the main attraction, another Israeli group named The Giraffes.
While all of this was happening, the area slowly filled until there were about 3000 people milling about–mainly young people in their late teens and 20s–but some smatterings of older people apparently ranging in age from about thirty to eighty. Despite the fact that Ashdod is a beach city, most of the young people were well dressed–with designer clothes and accessories. Almost all of them had the latest model cameras, and of course all of them had iphones or Samsung Galaxies (the hottest cellphone here right now).
Finally, after about a half hour interlude, The Giraffes came on, but not, as it turned out, to sing very much. The lead singer spent the next hour on stage, drinking one beer after another, discoursing about the social protests taking place in Israel, and exhorting the young people of Ashdod to become more involved. There was a lot of ‘Bibi must go’, ‘the government must change’ ‘we all deserve social justice’ ‘it’s too expensive to live here’, ‘the millionaires have all the money’ etc. with an occasional protest song thrown in–and rarely an actual song from their repertoire. It was like going to a protest concert in the late 60’s or early 70s (your humble servant regrets to reveal his age) except that the crowd, instead of shunning materialism had fully embraced it.
Anyway the singer continued to talk and drink beer, and the oddity was that almost nobody (except for about 20 groupies down front) was paying any attention. He would chant the popular social justice chant “Ah’am doresh tzedek chevrati” (“The people of the land are demanding social justice”); the groupies would chant with him, and everybody else would take a drag on their cigarettes (a lot of young people smoke here), drink more beer, take pix of their friends–or just talk on their phones. It was a strangely surreal scene.
My first thought was that maybe Ashdod is just different. It has always had a reputation for being a conservative city politically and religiously, yet a liberal city artistically and socially. But as the night wore on, your humble servant got the distinct impression that the protest movement was fizzling out–just as The Giraffes’ lead singer finally did on stage. It is an impression that has been described by others in op-eds across the political spectrum (even from the far-left Haaretz newspaper) over the weekend.
No doubt there will be another large protest or two, but September is almost here–students will be going back to school, the Palestinians will be declaring a state at the U.N., and who knows what security threats loom on the horizon.
But the protesters have made their point. The cost of living here is high and some accommodation must be made for those who cannot afford the constant increases in food and housing. The wealth of the country has for various reasons become concentrated in the hands of a very few. Hopefully the government will implement structural reforms to make housing more affordable, food companies more competitive, and tycoons less likely to riskily borrow money in order to buy everything in sight.
However there is also the growing realization that there is no way to pay for everything the protesters want except by increasing taxes or borrowing money–and most of the public wants neither. The riots in England have driven home the point that the social problems here are not so bad–and the continued low unemployment here suggests to the average Israeli that the economic situation could be much worse. And there seems to be plenty of money here for the usual trappings of an affluent consumer society–new TVs, new cars, expensive clothes, and pricey restaurants.
It appears that what your humble servant has described as the “Israel summer” is beginning to draw to a close–and it is only mid-August.