Israel’s social protest movement continues, generating a huge amount of energy and creativity, but not nearly as much clarity or ambition.
By limiting their “revolution” to economic demands and a vaguely articulated welfare state, the organisers based on Rothschild in Tel Aviv were able to appeal to some 90% of Israeli society, which include a large number who voted for Natanyahu, Barak and Lieberman: “Bibi go home” is not how the polls looked back in July. Not so difficult, though: who doesn’t want to pay lower taxes AND have a welfare state?
And while the popular slogan “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu” rang out, everyone knows that an Egypt-style regime change is not on the shopping list submitted to the very political parties and government whose policies brought the people out onto the streets, whereas the millions in Cairo, Port Said and Alexandria kept to a simple and utterly intransigent demand that Mubarak “Get Out”.
And what can be easier to buy off with a few selected sweeteners than a list of assorted, narrow economic items that don’t begin to add up to the weight of the big mobilisation, the slogans and the mood.
The Tel Aviv student leaders, fearing to be labelled “leftists”, have not only kept the Occupation out of sight (except as an issue of cost), but downplayed all the housing, land and building issues that are among the worst excesses of Zionist Israel against its own Palestinian citizens. Social justice at no point touched on human rights, leaving the argument to be about their loyalty or their contribution to the country — not because as human beings they merit equal treatment.
As Seraj Assi wrote, under the headline “Israel ‘walks like an Egyptian’ but protests like a bourgeois Zionist”, “the Tel Aviv protests are taking place within the Zionist consensus”. And in +972, Joseph Dana and Dahlia Scheindlin ask bitterly, “Can Israelis have a social justice revolution without speaking about the rights of people they control and occupy?” and they point out that this is a practical as well as a moral question: “Without full civil, human and national rights for all people between the Jordan and the sea … we will forever worship the military and privilege them”. An ethnic policy in housing means that “once we do this against one group, we can do it against any group”. Social and economic priorities will always give way to security priorities, and those parties that stand for security will always be in power. And if the supposed self-censorship of “don’t mention the Occupation” holds, “these protests might come and go and not a single word about the occupation will be officially mentioned. For a ’social justice revolution’ this is tragic, or, perhaps, it is just not a social justice revolution.”
After four weeks, it seems that the main focus and demands have not moved on, though the mobilisation itself may continue. There seems little chance that the movement as a whole will question any of the fundamentals of the Israeli state, and at best will drag the national political centre of gravity from the recent ascendancy of the ultra-right.
But even that won’t happen unless the movement forms an ongoing political party to clear out the current Knesset members, who are right now busy tabling a new Basic Law to abolish Arabic as an official language, sanction segregated housing, and bring all other laws into line with … the Bible.
Possibly there would be hope for further development and re-thinking within the emergence of such a party. Possibly not, if it continued to put popularity above principle.
But as yet, the leaders are simply hiving off to do research and look at welfare state models to feed into the government-appointed committee of academics and experts, as if it was all just a matter of suggesting where the extra money can be found. If someone has told them that it doesn’t take research to know what’s wrong with demolishing a Bedouin village 25 times or evicting the Arabs of Jaffa, Lod and East Jerusalem, they don’t seem to be listening.
We asked two weeks ago if Israel had crashed its bullshit barrier. At this point, it seems hardly to have been dented.
The main gains have been on the political periphery, and in some matters of “attitude”: a rejection of the use of “security” as eyewash, an expression of fellow-feeling and solidarity with Egyptians (which Matan Kaminer sees as “the most potentially revolutionary aspect of the movement”) and the effects of the mobilisation itself in shaking off routine and apathy. Maybe when BDS and international isolation begin to bite, some of these people may be a bit more sensitised and a bit more receptive to the world’s opinion.
And to be truly negative, we also need to see how this looks in its worst light. Israelis never lacked confidence, though it can be brittle and defensive. Is it actually useful for them to “demand their country back from the oligarchs”, without the slightest sense that it is Israel itself that owes the Palestinians “their country back”? Are these people really fundamentally different from the flag-waving settler youth?
And will the sight of glamorous tent-power in Tel Aviv strike a chord of sympathy in young Jewish Americans just when they were becoming thoroughly alienated by Israel and starting to support the Boycott? Israel’s Hasbara (propaganda) machine will have no trouble at all putting a positive spin on these mass protests, which will be a lot easier than trying to make the hate-filled psychos of the right look nice.
Well, that’s the bad news. Now turn to Part 2, the Revolution inside the Revolution, to see what progress the militant voices have made in the same four weeks.
« Israel’s Protests: Part 2, the Fringe
Has Israel Crashed Its Bullshit Barrier? »