[Marxism] Israel's Exclusive Revolution

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 26 07:12:19 MDT 2011


Israel's Exclusive Revolution
By Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana, AlterNet
Posted on August 24, 2011, Printed on August 26, 2011

In early July 2011, radical left-wing activists in Israel 
organized a Facebook event titled, "The Week of Rage" as a 
spontaneous demonstration against the skyrocketing price of rent 
and basic consumer goods. Also prominent in the activists' list of 
grievances were anti-democratic proposals of Israel’s parliament, 
the Knesset, that were designed to stifle dissent against the 
occupation and Israel's repression of its own Palestinian 
citizens. The protests were characteristically theatrical, with 
demonstrators attacking the Likud Party headquarters with cottage 
cheese, a staple commodity that had become unaffordable for most. 
Enthusiastic as they were, the demonstrations were sparsely attended.
On July 14, in the midst of the Week of Rage, another spontaneous 
protest developed in Tel Aviv. About a dozen young residents with 
scant experience in direct action protest pitched tents on Tel 
Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard. Months before, protesters in Greece 
had pitched their own tents in Syntagma Square directly in front 
of the Greek parliament to challenge their government with a 
display of people power. The location selected by the Israeli 
demonstrators was no less significant. Instead of setting up camp 
in front of the Finance Ministry or the Knesset, they chose a 
wide, grass-lined strip that mimicked Viennese strolling grounds. 
On one end of Rothschild Boulevard was the Dizengoff House where 
David Ben Gurion publicly declared the establishment of the 
"Jewish and democratic" state. On the other end was the recently 
refurbished Ha'Bima Theater, the symbol of the Zionist 
resuscitation of the Hebrew language.

As the protesters erected the first tents, we interviewed Stav 
Shaffir, a media professional in her late-20s. "We are a young 
group of Israelis and we feel we're unable to live in Tel Aviv 
because the prices of housing are going up," Shaffir told us. 
"We're fed up with having to always move between places and look 
for the cheapest housing solutions. It's now time to say enough so 
we've come out to the streets with our tents and we've also 
started in Jerusalem."

We asked Shaffir if the protest movement was connected in any way 
to the law passed five days before in the Knesset that 
criminalized speaking in favor of a boycott of settlement-produced 
goods, or to the constant stream of anti-democratic laws. "There 
are many things that are connected but here we protest against the 
housing costs," she insisted. "We are not a group. Everyone has 
their discretion to choose what is the most important issue."

What began as a small gathering of Tel Avivians built unexpected, 
immediate momentum. Shaffir and her friends struck a chord among 
the country's frustrated middle class. Three weeks after the first 
tents appeared, 300,000 demonstrators filled the streets of Tel 
Aviv in one of the largest protests in Israel's history. Chanting 
in unison, "The nation demands social justice!" Israelis of nearly 
all political backgrounds joined together as the voice of a 
disgruntled but suddenly hopeful people.

The protesters presented a smorgasbord of Israeli grievances, 
including more rights for the physically disabled, better care for 
the elderly, and the release of Gilad Shalit, a soldier held 
captive by Hamas since 2006. But everything seemed to center 
around the kitchen table demands originally outlined by Shaffir 
and her cadre. Polls taken a week after the protests exploded 
showed nearly 90 percent of Israelis approved of the 
demonstrations’ demands.

The crisis no one was willing to mention, however, was the 
44-year-long Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 
Demonstrators we interviewed from across the political spectrum 
deflected questions about the occupation -- at times in an 
aggressive, resentful manner -- by calling it a divisive 
"political" issue.

"I think the general public sees occupation as a security issue, a 
left-right issue that is not related to our cause for social 
justice," Hadas Kouchalevich, a leader of the Israel Students' 
Union, told us. Kouchalevich's organization has shepherded 
thousands of university students to the demonstrations, including 
students from Ariel University who study in a West Bank 
mega-settlement. When asked if she personally believed the July 14 
movement could connect social justice to the issue of occupation, 
she replied, "No. Occupation is a security issue, not a social 
justice issue."

The decision to exclude the occupation from the grievances of the 
July 14 movement was entirely organic. No hired gun consultant 
advised movement activists to avoid the hot button issue in order 
to broaden the appeal of the demonstrations. The mainstream of the 
Jewish public decided on its own, and without much internal 
reflection, that social justice could exist alongside a system of 
ethnic exclusivism. Thus, while the July 14 movement proceeded 
through cities across Israel bellowing out cries for dignity and 
rights, Palestinians remained safely tucked away behind an 
elaborate matrix of control -- the Iron Wall. Ten years of 
separation had not only rendered the Palestinians invisible in a 
physical sense. It had erased them from the Israeli conscience.

"It's very strange to see a social justice protest without 
mentioning occupation," Gidi Grinstein, a confidant of Defense 
Minister Ehud Barak, who heads the Reut Institute, a 
government-linked Israeli think tank remarked. "But most people in 
Israel don't even believe there is an occupation anymore. They see 
the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and think there is a 
functioning government. They hear about the Palestinian statehood 
resolution at the UN in September, and they think Palestine is a 
real state. So there is this cognitive dissonance among Israelis."

For years Israel's tiny but intensely motivated left-wing tried to 
mobilize mass protests against the occupation, hoping they could 
shake Israeli society out of its slumber. But the settlements 
grew, and the occupation became more and more entrenched. 
Suddenly, with hundreds of thousands of their compatriots in the 
streets demonstrating against the most right-wing government in 
their country's history, some leftists began conjuring visions of 
a revolution.

"We have failed to end the occupation by confronting it head on 
but the boundary-breaking, de-segregating movement could, 
conceivably, undermine it," wrote Dimi Reider, a writer for the 
heavily trafficked left-wing Israeli online magazine 972. Reider 
claimed the demonstrations could achieve dramatic change because 
they "may challenge something even deeper than the occupation." 
Hagai Mattar, a veteran anti-occupation activist and widely read 
journalist, echoed Reider's unbridled enthusiasm. "For the first 
time in decades, perhaps, we are witnessing the impossible 
becoming possible," Mattar wrote on the popular Hebrew website 
MySay. "What appeared to be a mere fantasy half a year ago… has 
become a vivid reality."

Many members of the Israeli left have suffered for their activism. 
Some have been injured by Israeli soldiers during protests in the 
West Bank, where they routinely dodge rubber bullets and 
high-velocity teargas projectiles. Others have served months in 
prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli Army. With a suite of 
anti-democratic laws passed by the Knesset, they fear a coming 
crackdown. But perhaps the greatest source of suffering for 
Israeli leftists is having been cast out of one of the most 
tribalistic societies in the world. Many are turned down for 
housing and employment on the grounds that they refused military 
service. The very word "leftist," or smolini, has become an insult 
in the Hebrew language. Hoping to replace the communal bond their 
society had denied them, the radical leftists who have not escaped 
to the squats of Berlin or Barcelona formed a tribe within the tribe.

As the July 14 protests gathered momentum and manpower, members of 
the radical left bolstered the movement with their tactical 
experience and fearlessness in the face of police intimidation. On 
July 23, when hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the 
streets of Tel Aviv, Israeli police forces arrested 43 
demonstrators. Most of them were leftists who attempted to block a 
major intersection. The most prominent among them was Matar. 
Normally, the arrests of left-wingers at anti-occupation protests 
go unreported. In this instance, however, the arrests were 
broadcast to a national audience during the prime time news. After 
being released from their jail cells, the demonstrators were 
greeted by their fellow Israelis not as traitors but as heroic 

"The radical left is no longer an outsider, but forms an important 
part of the mainstream," Matar wrote recently in an article 
celebrating the protests. If this new movement welcomed leftists, 
and upheld them as its vanguard, how could it not be revolutionary?

Born out of indignation and mired for years in malaise, radical 
leftists like Matar believe they have found the influence they 
always sought among mainstream Israelis. However, there was little 
evidence that the July 14 movement's rank and file had any 
interest in overthrowing the "system," or that they would ever be 
willing to acknowledge, let alone engage, the occupation. If 
anything, the demonstrations reflected the young urban class's 
yearning for early Zionist communalism, where everyone was 
guaranteed respect so long as they were part of the yishuv 

As Yehuda Nuriel, a columnist for the leading Israeli newspaper 
Yedioth Aharanot, wrote recently, "Here is the Zionism we almost 
lost. We found it in the tent." Indeed, July 14 seems to represent 
a remarkable reincarnation of the Zionist spirit that gave birth 
to the state of Israel, not the revolution that will "challenge 
something deeper than the occupation," as Reider wrote.

As during the glory days of early socialist Zionism, Palestinians 
are isolated and ignored. "It's a classic secular, Jewish and 
urban protest," Tamar Herman, a political scientist at the Israel 
Democracy Institute, told the Associated Press. "Arab 
participation would open the door to the divisive questions here."

In mixed cities and in Palestinian communities inside the Green 
Line, a few Palestinian citizens of Israel are pitching their own 
tents. But on Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, the epicenter of 
the protest movement, there is only one tent representing 
Palestinian demands. It is "Tent 1948," a small encampment 
dedicated to promoting Arab-Jewish solidarity and reminding the 
mass of demonstrators of the dispossession of Palestinians in 
1948. Left-wing Israeli writers Noam Sheizaf and Mairav Zonszein 
claimed that Tent 1948 was "challenging the protest movement from 
the left, by reminding people of land issues that followed 1948." 
Citing the presence of the Arab-Jewish tent and the inclusion of a 
single Arab speaker at the raucous July 23 rally in Tel Aviv (the 
speaker did not risk rankling his massive audience with any 
mentions of occupation), Reider opined that "the participation of 
Palestinian citizens of Israel in the protests has more bearing on 
the conflict than any concentrated attempt to rally the crowds 
against the occupation."

Palestinian-Israelis join the July 14 protests at great personal 
risk. They fear that by joining the movement their own national 
identity will be co-opted to advance a struggle that will betray 
them in the end. Boudour Youssef Hassan, a 22-year-old law student 
at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is among many young 
Palestinian citizens of Israel who looked upon the demonstrations 
with suspicion. "At first I thought it was a good thing that they 
were confronting the right-wing government," she said of the 
Jewish demonstrators. "But the longer it goes on the more I think 
they are simply using us Palestinians while their real goal 
appears to be the revival of the Zionist left."

Abir Kopty, a Palestinian rights activist from the northern 
Israeli city of Nazareth, is one the few Palestinians to have 
insinuated themselves into the main protest area on Rothschild. 
Kopty played a central role in the establishment of Tent 1948 and 
she is a major presence at Palestinian tent protests around the 
country. "I've been a part of Tent 1948 not because I wanted to be 
part of J14," Kopty told us. "My role there is to challenge J14 
and to tell them they can't have social justice without addressing 
issues like occupation. So I refuse to be a part of J14. I'm only 
there to challenge and to assert my Palestinian identity."

Despite her prominent role, Kopty agreed with Youssef Hassan that 
the movement was exploiting her presence to burnish its social 
justice image. "I'm aware that they're using me but it doesn't 
matter because in the world [the July 14 movement] won't receive 
any real support unless they address the Palestinian issue and the 
occupation," Kopty said. "Palestinians aren't really a part of J14 
anyway because they generally didn't go to Rothschild to set up 
tents. Instead they are setting up tents in their own 
neighborhoods just to say, 'Hello, we are here.'"

But could the July 14 protests initiate a process that will 
eventually lead to the unraveling of the occupation and 
discrimination against Palestinians, as many on the Israeli left 
have suggested? "The injustice will continue," Kopty declared 
flatly. "And I don't believe J14 will create changes that are 
socio-political. But our struggle is completely political. So when 
J14 finally explodes because the different internal groups have 
contradicting interests -- and they can't remain apolitical 
forever -- our struggle will go on."

As the July 14 movement grows, it is becoming more inclusive, but 
not of Palestinians. Instead, Jewish settlers of both the 
ideological and practical variety are now welcomed into the 
protest's big tent.

Ariel is the linchpin of the major settlement blocs Israel refuses 
to relinquish in final status negotiations. Built on hundreds of 
hectares of land confiscated from private Palestinian landowners 
and surrounded by the Israeli separation wall, which creates a 
wedge between seven nearby Palestinian villages, Ariel sits 
directly on top of one of the largest aquifers in the region. 
According to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, Ariel 
residents receive 7.9 times more government subsidies than those 
who live inside Israel proper. This August, the Israeli government 
approved the construction of 277 new housing units in Ariel, 
including 100 for settlers evacuated from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Ariel has become a symbol of the cognitive dissonance of Israel's 
occupation. While its borders stretch deep into the West Bank, 
consolidating Israel's domination over Palestinian life, its 
interior resembles a grassy bedroom community in Southern 
California, lined with neat rows of mission-style subdivision 
homes. From Ariel's new university to its state-of-the-art theater 
to the gleaming sports center built thanks to the generosity of 
American junk bond kingpin Michael Milken and Texas mega-church 
pastor John Hagee, the settlement contains all the trappings of a 
"normal" community. The majority of Israelis have bought into the 
image of Ariel as Israel's own Temecula -- a suburb, not a 

On August 13, when protest leaders declared an "expansion into the 
periphery" of Israel, Ariel held its first ever social justice 
demonstration, with hundreds of disgruntled residents demanding 
lower housing prices. Two days before, the July 14 movement 
endorsed the protest in Ariel, advertising directions to the 
demonstration on its official Hebrew website.

"This is the test," the July 14 website proclaimed. "Are we 
together or are we not?"

Max Blumenthal's articles and video documentaries have appeared in 
the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Daily Beast, the 
Nation, and many other publications. He is a writing fellow for 
the Nation Institute. His book, "Republican Gomorrah: Inside The 
Movement That Shattered The Party," is a New York Times and Los 
Angeles Times bestseller.

Joseph Dana is a journalist and writer based in Tel Aviv and 
Ramallah. A dual American-Israeli citizen, Dana formerly studied 
Jewish history at the Hebrew University and the Central European 
University in Budapest before devoting himself to full time 
writing about Israel and Palestine. His work has appeared in the 
Nation, Le Monde Diplomatique, London Review of Books, the 
National, and many other publications.

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