It’s interesting to compare the phenomenon of popular protest that we’ve seen around the world in recent years, greatly facilitated by the technology of modern social media, with new eruptions occurring with frequency.
The Arab Spring of two and half years ago broke out against unresponsive authoritarian regimes. Libya and Syria descended into all-out civil war, as Kaddafi and Assad absolutely refused to tolerate peaceful protest.
Recent protests in Turkey are against an ostensibly democratic government that appears to be overreaching in its conservative Islamist cultural agenda, and is headed by a heavy-handed and arrogant prime minister.
Protests that have recently broken out in Brazil have some remarkable parallels with Israel’s mass protests in the summer of 2011. Both are in democratic societies, sparked by a handful of individuals protesting the rising cost of living — the high cost of housing in Israel and a hike in bus fare in Brazil — which quickly ballooned into massive outpourings against economic inequality, misplaced national priorities and tone-deaf governments. In Brazil’s case there is more anger in the protests and more corruption to protest against.
Brazil is the fourth most populous country in the world (after China, India and the US), with 200 million people. Israel, by comparison, had fewer than eight million citizens in 2011; the peak protest brought out nearly half a million across the country. In Brazil, we’ve heard that “over a million” have rallied into the streets, but that’s a lot smaller segment of the population than in Israel. Doing a rough, back-of-an-envelope calculation, a comparable Brazilian scale of protest (with more than 25 times Israel’s population) would bring about 12.5 million people into the streets.
In Israel, the protest movement has had some effect at the margins of politics, being a factor in moderate gains for Labor and Meretz, and in the emergence of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) party. Yet minor reforms in government policy (e.g., expanded spending for pre-school programs and housing) are being undercut by austerity measures brought on by a growing national budget deficit. And the obvious step of curtailing expenditures and subsidies for expanding settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is not happening. Lapid, now the finance minister, betrays his reform constituency by not going in this direction.
Hopefully, Brazil’s center-left ruling party will respond better to popular outrage than Israel’s center-right governing coalition has.