top of page

About eye-rolling at protests against the judicial overhaul | Hadas Budescu

Flags don’t turn me on, in general - not Israeli flags nor Palestinian flags, not at the Eurovision nor at the World Cup.

The flags that have been flooding the streets in the last few months are here to tell us something: the flag represents the same thing that brought many of the protesters out onto the streets - identity. That which is imagined to be “Israeli” by a large section of the Israeli public is in danger, and this is something that makes me, and many leftwing activists, roll our eyes.

This grasp of the flag and the Declaration of Independence tells us about a “Mandela Effect'' which prevails amongst much of the public: a memory of a different State of Israel - truly democratic, progressive, equal and respectful of human rights. People are willing to be beaten and arrested in the struggle for this Israel - which never existed.

The first protest which I participated in during the most recent wave began at HaBima Square in Tel Aviv. Between the crowded swarms of protestors I found the circle of samba drummers. Within the rivers of blue and white we beat the drums and shouted together about Massafer Yatta, Sheikh Jarrah, public housing and education. A few people raised Palestinian flags - a very explosive act, especially just after the order given by the Minister of Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, to enforce the ban on waving the Palestinian flag in public. A young man holding the flag was propelled into the circle of drummers. He was escaping from two fuming men who tried to violently grab the flag from his hands, and found shelter within our circle.

Photo by Michal Shomer

A few days later, in a living-room conversation with the drummers, we discussed how much choice we had in that moment - to be a shelter for him, or not. Only then did I discover that those two violent men were not, as I had thought at the time, passersby who were shocked by the protest, but were themselves participating in it.

Many interactions in the wider demonstration confirm the feeling that here too there is no invitation or desire for a Palestinian presence. That even when secular Jewish protesters in the center of Tel Aviv feel on their own bodies the tools of oppression that were developed over decades of violent occupation, they still have no interest to turn their gaze in that direction. It is hard not to roll your eyes when hearing the cries of De-Mo-Kra-Tya; the same ‘democracy’ under which minorities - not just Palestinian, also Ethiopians, Haredi Jews, asylum seekers and so many other populations - have suffered from much harsher police violence, without anyone batting an eyelid.

Unfortunately, within the leftwing circles I also struggle to find comfort. I see my activist friends who go each week to Sheikh Jarrah, who for years have fought for true democracy in Israel and Palestine, rolling their eyes during this moment of truth. They leave early, they call the protesters boring Zionists, and dismiss any resistance to their opinion with a cry of “you fascist!”. The word “settler” in leftwing rhetoric has become an empty slur which refuses to see the people who live in settlements as complex human beings. This too makes my stomach clench, here too I feel shame. Again I feel that I am on the side of someone who hates someone else, because life’s circumstances led us to be on two opposite sides of a barricade.

Photo by Faina Feigin, 2023

In a large demonstration outside the Knesset, during a preliminary reading of the new judicial overhaul laws, I felt hostility and fear. Jerusalem is more explosive than Tel Aviv, and already on the way to the protest we saw groups of people in the streets, arguing for their life. Again and again groups of Religious Zionist young men came up to the circle that I had joined; they waved Israeli flags and loudly sang Jewish songs. Nevertheless - in a moment of releasing tension, when it seemed like many of the protesters silently came to the agreement that now is the time to jump to Cafe Aroma in Cinema City for a strategic break from the anti-establishment resistance - I saw groups of people from the opposite sides of the barricade, speaking, discussing, asking questions. Reality reminded me of a simple truth: despair tells us that everything is dictated in advance and all is already lost, but reality, unlike the despairing consciousness, provides many unexpected changes of direction.

So I’ve been going round this loop for a week already, like a sock in a washing machine: another first reading for a shady law, another irresponsible military incursion into Jenin or Nablus at the price of innocent people’s lives, another violent incident in the West Bank which is supported and distorted by the army -

and your blood boils, and your heart breaks, and your soul asks to go outside and find the way back to unification, and meets this clench, this contraction. This ambivalence. This clench, this contraction, of leaving the house and not finding yourself in the mass - whatever your identity may be - not to find yourself in the Ashkenazi mass, the straight mass, the Zionist mass, the Jewish mass, the binary mass. Amongst the tens and hundreds of thousands of protesters in the streets you may find yourself feeling lonely, anomalous and frightened.

It’s no secret that our reality is bloody and painful. Our reality is full of struggle and mourning - but our reality is still surprising, and that is no small thing. When we imagine “hope” we tend to think of something aesthetic and utopian like Barack Obama’s election poster, but hope and optimism take many forms. And we have the opportunity to meet the unlikely angel who pops up during the darkest moments of our life - chaos. Let us welcome the chaos with open arms.

Photo by Michal Shomer

If the flags tell us that what brought many out onto the streets is a war over identity - I am searching for the way to find space for the diverse identities who don’t fight each other for the right to exist, and I see the opportunity for such spaces stumble onto our path when the rules of the universe become more flexible. When the balance of powers changes in such a drastic manner that we have no choice but to walk along a road we have not been down before. We are in a rare moment in the Israeli space-time continuum, a moment of fluidity and uncertainty. This evokes horror; each week more and more people pay the price with their health, their possessions, their freedom and their life. They pay the price for the devastating fluctuations of change. Within this fear we want to entrench ourselves in our identity and to become more extreme. To be a leftist who hates settlers, to be a settler who hates Arabs, to be an Arab who hates Zionists, to be a feminist who hates men, to be a conservative who hates women. But I invite us to a new consciousness-expanding journey, to take a step back and to gaze with irony at the reality that surrounds us.

When people protest the regime using its own symbols, when leftwing activists roll their eyes at a public who struggles for human rights, when Kahanist government ministers warn against the destructive consequences of incitement and fear that their lives are threatened, and when Tel Avivians fill up to bursting the trains to Jerusalem - we have no choice but to understand that anything is possible.

Breaking Walls. Photo by Michal Shomer

I can meet surprising partners with shared interests to mine, I can create new alliances with those who share my pain, even when there are huge rifts between us. What still gives me hope from within the great wave of despair is that there is now an opportunity to create a new and previously unimagined future for myself and for those I love. Especially when the pain is great, especially when the distress is great. If we still have not met the leaders who will replace this government, we still have not heard within this protest movement the voices that awaken within us hope and identification, how exciting - it’s not impossible that they might be us.

Hadas Budescu

An artist, writer and scriptwriter. Content and copywriter at Studio Anani. Graduate of scriptwriting at Sam Spiegel, and a person who hands out their zines to strangers.


bottom of page