Israel's Protest Queen Daphni Leef Isn't Prime Minister — Yet

Leader of Tent City Works in a Beauty Parlor

One More Cup of Coffee: Tuvia Tenenbom meets with Daphni Leef in a Tel Aviv café.
isi tenenbom
One More Cup of Coffee: Tuvia Tenenbom meets with Daphni Leef in a Tel Aviv café.

By Tuvia Tenenbom

Published April 20, 2014, issue of April 25, 2014.
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In summer of 2011, Daphni Leef’s apartment lease expired but she failed to find a new, affordable rental.

Forced to leave her abode, Daphni pitched a tent on the luxurious Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, igniting a social protest that eventually saw hundreds of thousands of Israelis taking over streets all over the land, pitching their own tents and loudly demanding immediate social change. Never before, nor after, have Israeli streets turned into a real home for so many people.

Some of those who hopped on Leef’s wagon in those days benefited enormously from their ride with her. Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir, for instance, are members of the Knesset. But Daphni is as far from joining the Knesset as I am from being the next leader of China.

Why isn’t Leef, the heroine of Israel’s streets, at least a Knesset member, if not a prime minister? I don’t know. What I do know is this: These days Daphni lives in Jaffa, as a normal citizen, and I go to meet her. We sit in a street café of her choice drinking, talking and smoking.

“Daphni, you succeeded in getting thousands of people to the street demanding social change, something nobody before you did,” I said. “How did you do it?”

“I don’t know how to answer this question. You have to ask the people why they went to the street.”

“I’m not asking for an absolute answer, just for what you personally think.”

“I don’t know. Perhaps it helped that I’m a middle-class woman, a white woman, which framed what I did as a ‘news story’ that the media found interesting. One TV reporter, for example, was interested in this story because he thought that it would provide a good example of how you cannot make a revolution in Israel. Of course he was wrong.”

“Your social revolution ended, and failed. Why?”

“If you think it ended, you don’t read the map correctly. If nothing else, the protests changed the ‘conversation’ in Israel; now people are talking about social issues. But it takes time for a social change to take shape. We will be able to measure this change in 20 years or so.”

“What do you think will happen in 20 years?”

“I can’t frame it for you in exact terms. The whole world is going through a change, not just Israel. In the past we had the Industrial Revolution, and now we are going through the Information Revolution, which will cause many changes in society. Up to our time, very few people controlled information, and it is information that shaped society into what it was, but this control is now crumbling. There was a world before Wikileaks, but now a new one is replacing it.”

“You advised me before to ask people, and I actually did. I asked them if the protests made any difference. They told me that they went to the street hoping for a change, but nothing has changed. The system is corrupt, they told me, and they don’t think anything will ever change.”

“The change in the Knesset is an example. Yes, what’s happening in the Knesset today is cynical but still: The fact is that in the present Knesset there are 50 new MKs (out of 120), and this is a direct result of the protests.”

“Let me ask you a more personal question. Everybody knew the social problems in this land, and the inequalities in wealth, and yet nobody did anything about it for generations. What made Daphni Leef wake up in the morning and decide to make a revolution? What is it in you — a personal trait, education or whatever — that makes you different?”

“I don’t feel comfortable to answer this question. Let others do it.”


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