[Marxism] Mondoweiss on the Israel protests

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 1 07:06:12 MDT 2011


Tent protests panic Netanyahu (and just might shake foundations of 

by Dena Shunra on July 31, 2011

Netanyahu does, in fact, have something to panic about. 150,000 
Israeli citizens were out in the streets, demonstrating on 
Saturday evening, up from 30,000 the previous Saturday. Tent 
encampments are popping up all over Israel, everywhere from the 
poshest center of Tel Aviv to the most disadvantaged cities in 
what they like to call “the periphery” - the hastily-built towns 
outside of the center, which served as place-holders to keep 
Palestinians from reclaiming their land after 1948, populated by 
state decree by the Jews brought in from Europe’s Displaced 
Persons camps and by the Arab Jews brought in with little say 
about their fate, in collusions by despotic leaders from Muslim 
countries and the nnw Jewish state, soon after 1948. The first 
encampment started on Rothschild Avenue, where a disgruntled 
renter, Daphne Leef, pitched her tent. Leef, a filmmaker unable to 
make ends meet, declared on her Facebook page that she was moving 
into the boulevard until economic conditions were livable. A few 
others joined her, angry about the skyrocketing rents inside Tel 
Aviv - and the impossibility of transportation outside it with 
Israel’s rickety and increasingly unreliable mass transit 

This protest - at the heart of Tel Aviv’s most affluent area, by 
people who had played by the rules, done the required military 
service, studied at universities - and couldn’t make end meets 
even after doing all of that - struck a chord with Israelis 
everywhere. I counted thirty encamplents on the map here: each pin 
on the map signifies an encampment, with dozens of tents and 
slogans demanding one thing: “social justice”.

They weren’t the first group to protest this year in Israel. The 
doctors and medical residents have been striking for nearly half a 
year, demanding fair wages and livable working conditions. Dairy 
farmers have done so as well. University students joined in 
(protesting fee hikes), as did some 44 of the parliamentary 
assistants working with Knesset members (reported here on 
Wednesday) and parents, who pushed strollers in a march of 
despair, complaining about the high cost of childcare and 
demanding free education in gov’t supervised creches and 
preschools. Also in with the protesters were the Association of 
Civil Rights in Israel, Physicians for Human Rights, several 
political parties, and Rabbis for Human Rights. These names may 
seem familiar to readers who have followed the protests against 
the occupation, but it is far from being a protest about the 
occupation. The reverse may be true: protesters have repeatedly 
said that they are “not political” - all they want is some Israeli 
version of the New Deal (yup. Roosevelt’s New Deal) - and they 
don’t want to restrict it to what has been traditionally called 
“the left”, which has been thoroughly rejected by Israelis. The 
paradigm of talking about justice and what is right to do has 
collapsed - to the great dismay of the few thousand Jewish 
Israelis who still see the world through the lens of universal 
justice. Out of the ashes of humanistic justice, though, one sees 
a new consensus arise - and one that could help bring justice to 
Palestine & Israel, for the first time since 1948.

Netanyahu is, as I said, panicking. Chants at the protests made 
sure to mention the police (notoriously low-paid, and legally 
prohibited from unionizing) among the sectors that needed a new 
deal. This so worried Netanyahu that he announced a 40% pay hike 
for them 
- via http://dubikan.com/archives/2023 & @NitayPeretz on Twitter]. 
Unheard-of steps are being taken to return excess funds by the 
Israel Water Association, which appears to have overcharged for 
its services. Silvan Shalom (whose current titles is Minister for 
Development of the Negev and Galillee and Regional Cooperation) 
and Coalition Chief Zeev Elkin tried to recruit the Livni Kadima 
party into the government from the opposition, accusing Kadima of 
populism. Sunday morning, Netanyahu’s Chief of Treasury (not 
minister of finance - the general manager of the treasury, a 
position with (much) more power) quit, due to professional 
disagreements between himself and Treasury Minister Steinitz. 
Sunday afternoon, Netanyahu sent his spokesman Roni Sofer to the 
press, to insist that the protest is “excessive” and that “the 
society has stopped setting boundaries for itself.” Protest 
organizers laughed heartily and said that the government doesn’t 
know what it’s talking about - and called for a nationwide strike 

There is good reason for their assertion. Netanyahu is on film 
commenting on the Arab Spring revolutions. He says that the entire 
Middle East is shaking - except for one country, where (according 
to him) there is a full democracy and equal rights for everyone 
under the law. Here’s a remix of that clip, with scenes from the 
demonstrations interspersed, put together by Noy Alushe:   So 
things are lively in Israel. All over Israel. There are tent 
encampments in Jaffa and in the Levinski Park, with activists from 
the posher (and more Jewish) areas joining in solidarity. In 
Qiryat Shmona and in Baqa, in Jerusalem and in Ashdod. Blogger 
Kikar Hamyoashim (a pseudonym) told me that he has seen more 
courtesy and consideration in Tel Aviv during the protests than at 
other times: cars stopped for him when he came to a crosswalk four 
times on a single afternoon, and people said things like “please” 
and “thank you” and generally acted like people were not the enemy 
but rather, members of the same society.

The demonstrations are tweeted with the #j14 hashtag; some of the 
organization is being done via Facebook, some via twitter, some 
via telephone and by existing personal contacts. Writer Roni 
Gelbfish called in some writer-friends, to read to the kids living 
in the tent encampments. Musicians have joined in. Musicians show 
up, ask for a guitar (Barry Sacharoff was handed three guitars 
when he asked for one) and perform either impromptu or scheduled 
shows. Sanitary facilities spring up, and organization begins to 
take place, in a mode which described by City Tree activist Assaf 
Shuhami as a Scale-free network.

What the activists want is nothing less than an entirely new 
social contract. They want to roll back the Shock Doctrine 
privatization, and regain a security network for what used to be 
the middle class, before Netanyahu and the neo-liberals sold off 
the assets - which had originally been taken over from the 
Palestinians, between the end of WWI and the 1948.

They don’t just want the government to fall; they want the system 
to change, from the ground up. They want to see a system which 
they describe as “fair” - a system where life is a playable game.

What will this mean for Palestine, though? What will it mean for 
the Palestinian citizens of Israel, and for the Palestinians 
living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, or in exile? 
When the Israeli government falls, and the New Deal protesters are 
asking for is worked out in detail, Israel will be at a turning 
point. It can either continue as an apartheid state - or step back 
and reorganize as the kind of entity Azmi Bishara described as “a 
state for all its citizens”. The timing, so close to September and 
the declaration of statehood in the Bantustans of the West Bank, 
is fortuitous: it would be fairly easy to preempt that, and 
declare a single state, with a sharing of resources and power 
among all its citizens - which would allow the resources to be 
diverted from military adventurism to the sort of state that the 
protesters are demanding. It is a possible path from here to 
there, and the very first such possible path I’ve seen. There are, 
however, other possibilities: Netanyahu could pull out the war 
card, to galvanize people behind fear of a perceived enemy; or the 
Israelis might decide that they actually like living in an 
apartheid environment, and upon rethinking it, decide to maintain 
that structure.

The protests are radically different from anything I’ve seen in 
Israel, ever. I am cautiously hopeful that they could lead to one 
state, with equal rights for all, regardless of ethnicity, and an 
ingathering of Palestinian exiles. Inshallah.

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