[Marxism] Israel, Occupy Wall Street, and Anti-Zionism

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at comcast.net
Mon Mar 26 09:39:45 MDT 2012

Israel, Occupy Wall Street, and Anti-Zionism
By Brian Kwoba
March 2012

The Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. is reverberating around  
the world. In Tel Aviv, Israel, for example, a tens-of-thousands- 
strong protest on October 29 “showed influences from the Occupy Wall  
Street movement, including signs saying ‘we are the 99 percent,’ and  
one sign that read ‘Occupy Oakland!’” (Jerusalem Post). Though much  
smaller in scale, this protest revives the recent memory of the  
summer’s July 14 (J14) movement in Israel, which received much  
criticism from the Palestine solidarity community for its failure to  
condemn the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, let alone the issue  
of Zionism itself.

As one such activist argued, “the hypocrisy of J14 is that while it  
may have supposedly been about social justice, it simply refused to  
address the occupation of Palestine.”

On this basis, many progressives and Palestine solidarity activists  
withheld support from the movement, instead criticizing it for its  
weaknesses and limitations. I think this was and is a big mistake,  
even though the “mainstream” of the Israeli protest movement was and  
still is largely silent on the oppression of Palestinians. Let me  

Occupy Wall Street, NOT Palestine

First of all, let’s be clear: Israel is a colonial-settler and  
apartheid state. Internationally, it must be boycotted, sanctioned,  
and divested from with all the vigor we can muster until (at minimum)  
it ends the occupation, grants full equality to all of its citizens,  
and cedes the right of return to the Palestinians of the Diaspora.

Whereas with South African apartheid, the international boycott and  
divestment movement played a powerful role in aiding the internal  
struggle, in the case of Israel many of us have traditionally  
considered the Jewish state and its population to be so monolithic as  
to require even more pressure from without than South Africa did if  
there is to be any serious challenge to the Israeli regime.

But the protest movement in Israel raises two game-changing  
questions: does everyone in Israel benefit from Zionism—Israel’s  
existence as a Jewish-supremacist state? If not, does the Palestinian  
struggle have any allies inside Israel?

Like Occupy Wall Street has done for the United States, Israel’s  
summer protests showed that there is mass discontent inside Israel in  
many sectors. If a majority of Israelis no longer benefit from  
Zionism, then the Palestinian struggle may have some new and very  
powerful potential allies.

Who in Israel really benefits from Zionism?

One obvious group of Israeli citizens who do NOT benefit from the  
Zionist project are the Palestinian citizens of Israel who comprise  
roughly 20 percent of its population. Many of these Palestinians have  
been displaced from their original villages and homes and are  
systematically oppressed in housing, education, law, and so on,  
despite their Israeli citizenship. And contrary to the idea that the  
Israeli protests were comprised of only middle class Europeans on  
Rothschild Boulevard, the protests in the south of Tel-Aviv, as well  
as in Jaffa, Haifa and Nazareth included strong participation of the  
Palestinian Arab citizens. For example, Palestinians from Jaffa  
united themselves with Mizrahi Jews from South Tel Aviv, putting  
aside their differences to demonstrate together for public housing.1

These efforts came to further fruition in September, when some 20  
political parties and social movements from both sides of the Green  
Line issued an historic declaration in support of the social protests  
in Israel and their necessary linkage to the struggle against  
Israel’s occupation and colonial policies.2 This is a major  
development, because it demonstrates the possibility of a radical  
change in Israeli consciousness towards Jewish-Arab UNITY with the  
Palestinian struggle. As a result of having to fight for their own  
rights to housing, education, and dignity, at least some Israelis  
have opened up to the idea that Palestinians and Arabs can and should  
be their allies in struggle.

Another group that may not benefit from Zionism is the Mizrahim (Jews  
of Arab and Middle Eastern origin), who have systematically  
restricted access to housing, income, education, and political power  
compared to the Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin). Mizrahi  
participation in the protest movement brings a powerful new dynamic  
into the picture and raises anew the question of a how much they,  
even as Jews, have benefited from living under a Jewish state.

For example, one Mizrahi friend of mine wrote online of the Israeli  
protests this summer:

“Outside of rothschild avenue, many of the tent cities are led by  
mizrahim and have mizrahi struggles at the center. This is also  
problematic because there is a necessity for mizrahim to recognize  
our complicity in the colonization and stand explicitly with  
palestinians. i think this is happening in the jaffa-hatikva joint  
protest. out of south tel aviv, i am also seeing what looks like from  
far away, a lot of working together between working class mizrahim  
and african refugees and foreign workers, which flies in the face of  
the racial tensions that place is known for.

“i’m from south tel aviv (hatikva actually) and i will say that i’m  
completely amazed by what i’m seeing from there. in a neighborhood  
where people [traditionally] march against the presence of africans,  
and vote solidly likud, people are carrying black panthers banners.  
people are pitching tents and making a set of demands in alliance  
with the tent city in jaffa. people are housing homeless african  
refugees in their tents in defiance of orders from the police and  
holding demonstrations when they are arrested. it’s beyond anything i  
could have ever dreamed of.

“knowing all of this, it’s very frustrating to run into people’s  
analysis which just dismisses the tent protests as being a bunch of  
hippies in rothschild, or a bunch of spoiled people demanding more  
than they already have, or a bunch of zionists. it’s true that in  
many places the foundation of these demonstrations is zionist, but i  
think this is changeable, and i think there is a great potential for  
mizrahi communities particularly to challenge that foundation.”

Historically, the largely-Ashkenazi elite have mostly been able to  
divert any discontent about Mizrahi oppression toward the  
Palestinians. This is similar to how immigrants, Blacks, and other  
“outsiders” have been scapegoated historically in other  
industrialized countries. This racism has been deliberately stoked by  
the government, for example, by the fact that Israeli border guards,  
who dispense oppression onto Palestinians on a daily basis, are  
disproportionately Mizrahim. For these and other reasons, mainstream  
Mizrahi politics have for decades had a predominantly right-wing  
virulence, often times more racist toward Palestinians than the  
average Jewish Israeli. This divide-and-rule tactic has worked well  
for manufacturing Mizrahi consent for Zionism, but appears to be  
cracking under the pressure of the recent mass protests and joint  
struggle in Israel.

Furthermore, it must be said that there is a progressive wing of  
Mizrahi politics both historically (e.g. in the Israeli Black  
Panthers of the 1970s), but also today. The Tarabut conference in May  
this year (before the J14 protests) passed a declaration of  
solidarity in struggle with Palestinians for liberation, including  
support for the right of return according to UN Resolution 194. Not  
bad for an organization of Arab and Jewish Israelis!3

If we look for other sources of potentially anti-Zionist opposition  
inside Israel, we quickly find that Ethiopian and Russian Israeli  
Jews are also systematically oppressed in housing, education, income,  
and so on. In fact, they entered the J14 process with a joint African  
and European demonstration against segregated (apartheid) schools,  
and could conceivably do the same for housing, income, and other  
issues.4 As usual, the younger generation is even more inclined  
towards universal social justice, as evidenced by the anti-Zionist  
organization Young Ethiopian Students, for example.5

Suffice it to say that Israel is not a monolithic society, and most  
of its citizens have not benefited materially from Zionism. Just look  
at the numbers: Palestinian citizens are 20 percent of the population  
inside Israel, the Mizrahim are around 37 percent (roughly half of  
the Jewish population) of Israel. The immigrants from Africa and Asia  
are 10 percent. Together that is 67 percent of the Israeli population  
that is potentially anti-Zionist.

What about the Ashkenazi Jews?

One of the politically-sharpest Israeli anti-Zionists, Moshé  
Machover, had this to say about the question of whether the Jews of  
European origin in Israel benefit from Zionism:

“Since the 1980s, there has been a great structural change in Israel.  
Formerly, the Israeli economy was only 50 percent private. The other  
half was owned by the state and the Histadrut. The economy was  
welfare-based, with external subsidy channeled also to the working  
class. This is no longer the case. The economy is privatized and much  
of the welfare structure has been axed. The huge external subsidy  
[i.e. from the U.S.] is not distributed to the whole of society, but  
more or less bypasses the civilian economy and covers the military  
budget. The Israeli working class hardly benefits from Zionism,  
certainly much less than in the past (before the 1980s). In many  
ways, the expenditure on colonization of the Occupied Territories is  
seen as a burden on the [Ashkenazi] working class.”

Even the New York Times published an op-ed about how “according to a  
report published by the activist group Peace Now, the Israeli  
government is using over 15 percent of its public construction budget  
to expand West Bank settlements, which house only four percent of  
Israeli citizens. According to the Adva Center, a research institute,  
Israel spends twice as much on a settlement resident as it spends on  
other Israelis…Israel today is facing the consequences of a policy  
that favors sustaining the occupation and expanding settlements over  
protecting the interests of the broader population.”6

If this is true, then the Ashkenazi workers who joined the protests  
of J14 ought to be placed in the category of potentially anti-Zionist  
political forces. As one blogger put it:

“Of course, the government will try to overcome the [housing] problem  
by continuing the colonization of the West Bank and encouraging more  
Israelis to participate. So, Israeli workers have a clear choice.  
They can continue to invest in Zionism, continue to uphold the  
chauvinism at the heart of Israeli society that validates the  
occupation and the repression of Palestinians, and hope to resolve  
their dilemmas at the expense of the [Palestinians]. Or they can make  
that link which they have so far refused to make, between their  
situation and that of the Palestinians, and begin the work of undoing  
the Zionism which has hitherto held them hostage.”7

Whether Israeli workers do in fact make common cause with the  
Palestinian struggle will depend, in part, on whether we in the  
progressive and Palestine solidarity community reach out and work to  
build those links. It will be a difficult task, but one made easier  
if Mizrahi, Ethiopian, and Arab masses can also begin to join hands  
in unity for the struggle.

Eighteen families own 60 percent the Israeli economy.8 Could it be  
that they (and the rest of the top one percent in the government and  
military) are the only ones who materially benefit from Zionism and  
the socio-economic system that upholds it? If so, then anti-Zionists  
have a stronger case to make now than ever.

Moreover, the joining together in struggle of European, African,  
Jewish, and Palestinian masses in Israel (amidst a wave of uprisings  
throughout the Middle East and North Africa) reveals the potential  
for unity among working and poor people across ethnic, religious, and  
national divisions.

However, to expect that this confluence of social forces would  
immediately arrive at an instantaneous opposition to the occupation  
of Palestine (or of colonialism and Zionism more generally) is  
unreasonable. People who enter into struggle do not go from A to Z in  
one day or one week or one month. But an awakening and change in  
consciousness that has already been set in motion is easier to keep  
in motion. Progressives all over the world should be enthusiastic  
about this opportunity not only because of the potential it has to  
transform social inequality and oppression, but also because of the  
active and subjective role we can play in helping it to realize that  

If masses of people who come into the streets to express their  
discontent are not met with long-time activists who can broaden their  
horizons even further because we have abstained from the struggle in  
Israel or elsewhere, then we are missing a historic opportunity to  
make our case for Palestinian rights and a united struggle for social  
justice that transcends the boundaries that the top one percent has  
manipulated to divide us.

After all, we in the Palestine solidarity movement—like the Arab,  
Jewish, and Mediterranean masses throughout the region—are the 99  

Brian Kwoba is an activist with Occupy Boston. He can be reached at  
bdubkwob at gmail.com

—Israeli Occupation Archive, December 2, 2011





4 www.youtube.com/watch?v=acnEIUKI7_Y&feature=player_embedded

5 http://youngethiopianstudents.wordpress.com/


7Richard Seymour, http://leninology.blogspot.com/2011/08/choice-for- 

8 Shir Hever: The political economy of Israel’s Occupation


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