In part, that escapism produced what Israelis refer to as "the Tel Aviv bubble"--a world-class city with a hi-tech corridor that is dedicated to the proposition of enjoying life and ignoring the conflict around it. But it also led to the secular plurality ceding much political power to a group of around 20 exceedingly wealthy families, the ultra-Orthodox, and the West Bank settlers, all of whom were far more politically organized and determined to transform Israel in their image.
Just how much of that power secular Israel can reclaim remains to be seen. On Sunday, Netanyahu announced the formation of a special committee comprised of leaders from the government, business, and academia to look into measures to reduce the burden on the middle class. An emergency session of the Knesset will take place later this week.
Netanyahu himself comes from the ranks of secular Israel that is disenchanted and as a result of that, and the movement's desire to maintain unity, the protest to date remains largely free of explicitly anti-Netanyahu rhetoric. But it is difficult to see how the prime minister will be able to deliver on the chief demands of the movement for three reasons.
First, his government coalition cannot survive without the participation of the religious and settler parties, each of which stands to lose from any reorganization of government priorities.
Second, Netanyahu is a firm believer in neo-classical economics. It was during his tenure as prime minister and treasury minister that most of Israel's market liberalization and privatization was enacted. Redistributing wealth and boosting social programs runs against his beliefs.
Third, the prime minister remains distinctly aloof from the struggle, and has had moments of treating participants of the movement with the disdain he normally reserves for political opponents and foreigners he considers ignorant of Israel's complex realities. Indeed, last week, he derisively referred to the protests as a "populist wave" that threatened to engulf the country, alienating many, including right-wingers who express affinity for the protest causes.
"First they called us 'communists,' then they called us 'fascists,' 'anarchists,' 'radicals,' 'sushi-eaters,' and even 'ugly people,'" protest leader Stav Shaffir said, referring to a series of comments made by members of the Netanyahu government toward the protesters. "After three weeks of seeing the government mocking our demands I'm not really sure we can go into negotiations with them" at the current time.
But if the Likud-led government cannot at least partially mollify the protestors soon, the building pressure on the political coalition may cause it to crack, paving the way for early elections. As the popular columnist Nachum Barnea wrote in Israel's largest newspaper, Yidiot Acharonot, Sunday: "The general sense is that the government is out of touch with the difficulties faced by the average citizen, has failed to provide adequate services and has taken an unjust approach in terms of the division of the burden and the division of privileges. Netanyahu and his ministers won't be able to ignore this outcry. Not because they believe that that outcry is justified, but because it reflects a force that threatens their continued hold on power."