In a sad commentary on the Israeli social-protest movement, the makeshift leadership of the social-protest movement split over matters big and small, and tonight Tel Aviv played host to 2 separate and competing protests. Everything in Israeli politics is fissile - it's like the old Jewish saying: "Put 2 Jews in a room and you'll have 3 opinions." Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu could not have hoped for a better outcome had tonight's anniversary fizzled into a media sideshow. A year ago, the Israeli news channels led their evening news with the tent protest, and covered the swelling movement with breathless excitement. Tonight, the evening news (as the evening began) placed the anniversary as the third story.
But then something completely unanticipated occurred. In the midst of one of the 2 protest marches at about 10 pm, a 50-something man distributed copies of a suicide declaration to bystanders, read it aloud, doused himself in a flammable liquid, and set himself on fire. Bystanders put the fire out, and the man was transferred to a hospital in serious condition, with 80% burns.
The man, identified as Moshe Silman, opens his letter by stating that "the State of Israel has stolen from me and robbed me, left me with nothing" and calls Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz "scumbags." In his letter, Silman claims he served in the Israeli Army and was a reservist but because of health conditions had lost the ability to work and had been abandoned by the social network of the Israeli state.
It cannot be known. But the possibility now exists that the #j14 movement, which had initially been dismissed by opponents as a Yuppified "tent city of nargilas and sushi," (on July 18 - 4 days into the protest - I had dismissed at as a non-event) has tragically inherited a symbol capable of energizing (and reuniting) the movement for the summer of 2012.
Now the wisdom of Netanyahu's 2 month-old kombina with Vice PM Shaul Mofaz is clear. Imagine for a moment if this protest had occurred 70 days before a domestic election?