The Israeli Tent Protest: City-by-City Analysis

From the Press
Globes | August 16, 2011 | Yoav Pridor

Last Saturday night, the protesters against the current housing situation in Israel discussed a strategy to shift the struggle to points outside Tel Aviv, in order to reinforce the claim that the distress caused by Israel’s high cost of living crosses municipal borders and affects all citizens. The larger demonstrations, which also received broad media coverage, were organized in Afula and Beer Sheva. Nevertheless, an analysis of online conversations reveals that, of all the cities where "tent city" protests were set up, the one in Jerusalem was discussed more than any other besides Tel Aviv.

It was interesting to note that Beer Sheva and Haifa followed Jerusalem on the most-discussed list. A common factor to these cities is a relatively large student and youth population, thanks to the presence of universities in all three cities. This is in contrast with cities where most of the residents are families, such as Holon, Ashdod and Modiin, where the number of discussions mentioning the tent-city protests was significantly lower.

This finding emphasizes the weight of the voice of the youth in this specific protest. The protest was in fact launched by a group of young people, who erected the first tents opposite Habima Theater, and this demographic is continuing to fuel the protests around the country. They gain wide support from the general public, which comes to the demonstrations and rallies, but the collective voice of younger people comprises a critical contribution to the tent cities springing up across the country.

Also interesting is evidence that, despite the differences in volume of conversation about each city's tent protest, there is great similarity in how the conversations about them are divided. In almost every city, the same two sites are generating the most online conversations about their local protest: Facebook and Twitter. They are the true catalysts of this protest. The first rumors about expanding of tent protests beyond Tel Aviv were posted there in the middle of last month, and people were quick to share their impressions about the situation on the same social networks – even before talkbacks to news articles. We can even say that Twitter and Facebook are the true seismograph of the protest, and when its momentum reaches the point of exhaustion, we expect to see the first signs of it in these two arenas, and only afterward in the mainstream media.

In the meantime, it is apparent from the volume of general online conversation about the protest that the storm is far from over, even though it is not successful in recreating the extent of the commotion generated by the first two demonstrations.

The following graph displays the number of daily conversations online about the protest over the last month. Excluding temporary slumps during the weekends (when most people do not remain in front of their computers), the protest continued to occupy Israelis as one of the most talked-about topics on the web, with about 800 daily conversations.