Yitzhak Laor: In the recovery room

By Yitzhak Laor, Haaretz – 16 Feb 2012
www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/in-the-recovery-room-1.413210

Last summer’s social protest movement may have left a lasting mark on public opinion but it died because it failed to translate the convenience of the cage – the Internet and television – into power for itself

Yitzhak Laor

Yitzhak Laor

Way back when in the late 1970s, when traces of the decade-long struggle between the left and the government were still visible on the Italian street, one weekly found an original means of advertising. It hung big white boards in train stations, where people could paint out their frustrations with the world.

One could liken it to the message of today’s Facebook revolution: Boycott, slander, but stay in your cage. In exchange you get a document-exchange, retail-marketing and deodorized-social-experience network. Political activism? Just the opposite: an addiction to passivity.

Contrary to rumor, Egypt’s was not the Facebook revolution. The noted Hebrew University history professor Emmanuel Sivan urges journalists to rouse themselves and venture beyond Tahrir Square to see the scope of the Egyptian uprising. Laziness is unlikely to be the only factor at work here. The giddiness over the “Facebook revolution” is part of the Western narcissism cultivated by the commercial media, which are easily excited – “They fomented revolution with the tools we gave them!” – and just as easily disappointed: “They failed despite our tools.” But the Kefaya (“enough”) movement has been growing in the Egyptian street for nearly a decade, feeding off the stored-up anger in the country’s trade unions and popular organizations.

That is certainly not what happened here in Israel. Last summer’s social protest movement may [have] left a lasting mark on public opinion but it died because it failed to translate the convenience of the cage – the Internet and television – into power for itself. In the past the best minds of the left have pondered over the tension between spontaneity and organization. There are no easy solutions to the dichotomy, but they can only come out of genuine action in the real world, which is rendered nil by the “net.”

The “net” is an Atlas of a business that carries the myth of freedom on its shoulders and creates profits for its owners. The myth, of course, trades in the slogans of youth: Twitter, Facebook and an Internet-capable cellphone. Flattery will get the marketers everything: Sweetie, you are progress itself – consume it, rest in our bosom.

The Internet petition is an example of what has happened to political activism in this vacuum. They are not only isolated, addressed to no one but their signatories – whether genuine or false, whether they signed only once or five times – and not intended to affect anyone else. Those who sign make no effort to convince the unconvinced to sign, or raise money to place a newspaper ad (an important political recruitment tool that can lead to continued action).

The blogosphere is a salient expression of this hermetically closed system, but so-called empowerment workshops can also be considered a ridiculous extension of the cage: “I live among people who are like me so as not to fear people who are unlike me (and in order to fund the system and its patrons).”

The encounter is always with yourself or someone like you, political auto-erotica. And there’s nothing like “furious argument” on the network to illustrate the imaginary nature of even a “confrontation.” You do not genuinely confront on the Internet. You do not become empowered through confronting. You and your partners do not train yourselves to deal with the claims of others, except for anonymous comments. You do not take the power you have gathered onto the streets, in order to build an organization that will transcend the street and reach former opponents who have experienced a turning point in their lives. Even the protesters from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah represent renunciation of the fight for the heterogeneous Israeli street. To quote Guy Ron Gilboa, an activist in the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement: “The radical left is full of people with tons of allergies and no antihistamines. Everyone walks around with his own inflammations, his own reddened eyes and his own stuffed nose.”

There is a sign hanging in the recovery room of a certain Haifa hospital, in which certain unpleasant medical procedures are administered: “In this room, it is permitted and even desirable to pass wind (burps and farts) freely. It will cause relief.” Such is the politics of the left: the politics of a cult, not of an opposition.

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