[Marxism] Junge Welt interviews Reuven Kaminer on the Israeli protests

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 4 07:24:37 MDT 2011


Matan Kaminer is an Israeli radical left activist and an MA 
student in anthropology at Tel Aviv University. He is currently 
active in organizing the protest encampment at Levinsky 
(HaKavkazim) Park in Tel Aviv, where native Israelis, migrants and 
refugees have joined forces. Interviewer: Wladek Flakin, 3 August 2011

JW: Back in March, Israeli Premier said that, in contrast to 
virtually every other country in the Middle East, there would be 
no protests in Israel. But last Saturday, up to 150,000 people 
went out onto the streets demanding social justice, the largest 
social movement for many years. What is the social background of 
this movement?

RK: First of all I should say that this explosion was totally, 
totally unexpected. If you had asked any radical in Israel three 
weeks ago what the chances were of a gigantic wave of social 
protest – you would have gotten laughed at. This is totally 
unprecedented and unpredicted. That said, in retrospect it's 
obvious that the main trigger was the collapse of economic 
horizons for the younger generation of the middle class. All of a 
sudden people realized that their woes weren't a personal failing 
but a consequence of the system. And then they rebelled. It was 
only later that the poor and disadvantaged among the Jewish 
population joined in. And now, the Palestinian minority is making 
its first steps to join the movement – on its own terms.

JW: This protest movement began with a tent city on the Rothschild 
Avenue in Tel Aviv, very similar to the tent cities at the Puerta 
del Sol in Madrid or the Midan at-Tahrir in Cairo. Do the young 
Israeli demonstrators see themselves as part of an international 
movement?

RK: Yes, definitely. Everybody's talking about Cairo, and above 
the assembly area on Rothschild there hangs a large sign saying 
"Rothschild corner of Tahrir". In terms of the actual forms of 
protest and organization I imagine we're closer to Madrid – one of 
the most important organizers in Rothschild is Aya Shushan, who 
spent the previous months in Spain on the plazas. But it's 
important to emphasize that in the Israeli context, taking an idea 
about protest or even revolution from an Arab country isn't a 
trivial matter. The solidarity implied here with the peoples of 
the Middle East is perhaps the most potentially revolutionary 
aspect of the movement.

JW: In the last year, Israel has experienced a number of important 
strikes. Are workers participating in this movement, or is it 
mostly middle-class youth (as many right-wing commentators claim)?

RK: It depends what you mean by workers and middle class. Israel 
has a post-Fordist service economy. The important strikes in the 
last year have been initiated by the new, militant trade union 
federation, Koah LaOvdim (Power to the Workers), and most of its 
unions are in services – from home day care workers to Open 
University lecturers. The one exception is Haifa Chemicals, a big 
industrial establishment which is on strike now. From what I hear, 
the workers there are taking an active part in the movement in 
Haifa. But "the working class" is not a category that people 
identify with and act as part of (as opposed to "the middle class" 
– somewhat like in the US). The struggle has not taken up the 
issue of work relations, with two exceptions: one is a demand to 
raise the minimum wage. The other is solidarity with public sector 
workers like doctors and teachers who are perceived as working for 
the general good.

JW: Ofer Eini, the leader of the largest trade union Histadrut, 
said on Monday that he would not support the protests if their 
goal was to bring down the Netenyahu government. On the other 
hand, many demonstrators took up the chant: "Mubarak, Assad, 
Netanyahu!" Does the movement aim to bring down the government?

RK: I saw a sign saying that, but I haven't heard anybody chanting 
the slogan. The movement is split on the question of whether to 
call for Netanyahu's resignation, mainly because people are afraid 
of being "political". That may sound bizarre in this context, but 
in Israel "political" has two connotations that are relevant in 
this context. One is the idea of being involved in parliamentary 
wheedling, which is very much out of favor. The other, of course, 
is taking a stand on issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian 
conflict.

JW: One sign at a demonstration read: "Build apartments, not 
settlements!" Have the protestors been connecting the social 
question to the question of the occupation of the Palestinian 
territories?

RK: Making this connection is not as straightforward as the 
question makes it sound. Of course, on a moral level one can say 
that "a wrong against one is a wrong against all" and that 
therefore any demand for "social justice" leads directly to 
opposing the occupation. But that logic is a bit too abstract. 
Some Palestinian activists have been voicing concerns that the 
demands of the protesters will be met at the expense of the 
Palestinians – by more land expropriations for example. In this 
context it is important to emphasize that if Jewish Israelis were 
willing to actively participate in the colonization process, in 
the West Bank as well as in the Negev and Galilee, then there 
would be no housing problem. Our extreme-right government would be 
happy to subsidize them. There is an implicit refusal to play that 
game in the current protest. This refusal is not idealistic or 
altruistic, but it is nevertheless there.

A whole different dynamic is based in the fear that the government 
will start a war or a mini-war with one of our neighbors in order 
to quell the rebellion. It is not out of the question – Assad, for 
one, would be happy to play this game with Bibi. A Facebook group 
called "Committed to continuing the protest even in the case of a 
military operation" set up yesterday already has 561 members, so 
there is some basis for hoping that the movement might turn 
anti-war for reasons of self-preservation.

But, these considerations aside, it has to be admitted that for 
the most part this movement has so far quite consciously kept its 
distance from the Palestinian issue. This is rapidly becoming 
untenable and dangerous. Yesterday the head of the Yesha 
Commission, which represents the settlements in the West Bank, 
visited the Rothschild encampment and was received cordially. 
While at first the right tried to isolate the protest by ascribing 
it to anarchists and left-wingers, the immense support it receives 
from all sectors of the public (excluding the settlers) has 
probably convinced them to try and take it over.

JW: What role has the radical, antizionist left in Israel been 
playing in these protests?

RK: Organizationally speaking, almost none. Prior to the rally in 
Tel Aviv last Saturday there was an attempt to organize a "radical 
bloc" which apparently faded away. Exceptions are Koah LaOvdim, 
which I mentioned above but is not "radical left" though many of 
its militants are, and Tarabut, a mostly Jewish component of 
Hadash/al-Jabhah (the mostly Palestinian-Israeli Democratic Front 
for Peace and Equality).

But as individuals and as a vibrant, well-connected network, the 
radical left has been amply involved. While some activists 
dismissed the movement early on, wary of the distance it has kept 
from the Palestinian issue, most have now jumped on the wagon – 
limited as it may be, this is the most exciting thing to have 
happened here in a generation. I think most of us are busy working 
the interstices, trying to articulate the causes of the working 
poor and the Palestinian minority with the struggle, as well as 
working to build democratic institutions within it. Things are 
happening of themselves, but we can use our connections and our 
experience to help them along.

Being a radical left activist in Israel is at most times a pretty 
depressing proposition. We act not out of belief that we can 
change anything, but rather out of the moral conviction that we 
cannot do otherwise.  Now, suddenly, everything is open, and our 
activity can make a huge difference. There is something scary 
about that, but also something very very exciting. Let's hope it 
holds.




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