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How to gauge the effectiveness of protest: A response to Roee Ruttenberg

Until we find a way of measuring the efficacy of one form of protest or another, surely we must encourage all forms and enable all those who desire change to express their desire in the way they think will be most effective.

By Yonatan Preminger

Roee Ruttenberg’s recent post criticized the way a group of “pro-Palestinian” activists in Berlin disrupted a concert by the Israeli choral group Gevatron. The gist of his article is that the protesters were childish attention-seekers, and that this form of protest is ineffective. This piece raises a thorny question: how are we to gauge the efficacy of an act of protest?

Immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967, there were calls for withdrawing from the newly occupied territories. Since then, there have been endless acts of protest, ranging from quiet demonstrations to civil disobedience and the most extreme violence. Meanwhile Israel’s hold on the territories becomes stronger. Human rights violations occur daily, basic amenities are withheld, land is “expropriated” for further settlement, Palestinians are arrested on the flimsiest excuse, detainees are held for months without even a show trial, and people are killed. And killed.

Israel, it seems, is continuing in the same old direction, like a stubborn pachyderm plodding onward to a distant objective. The kind of “talking to those who think differently” that Ruttenberg advocates, and the “pro-Palestinian” groups’ disruption of the concert are mere gadflies which Israel flicks away in annoyance. There have been small victories in the struggle against the occupation – certain rights temporarily restored, certain prisoners released, certain patients granted treatment in an Israeli hospital, sections of the infamous “separation wall” moved – but these have not budged the pachyderm from its general path by even a millimeter.

It is also interesting that Ruttenberg saw fit to mention the Jewish National Fund tin cans, which have iconic status in official Zionist history. Around the world, previous generations of Jews dropped their pennies into these collection cans to support Zionist efforts in building a national homeland; the work of the JNF was considered essential to these efforts. Today, the JNF’s work is more controversial. It owns over 10% of Israel’s total land area and has a policy of leasing to Jews only. It has been implicated in various deals to transfer property of “absentee Palestinians” to Jewish ownership, and is active beyond the Green Line. It also plants trees on land “cleared” off its unwanted residents – Bedouin in the Negev area. As a quasi-governmental organization working on state-backed projects which perpetuates Jewish privileges over Arabs, the JNF is a legitimate target for protest.

Yet the JNF’s work today is a direct continuation of its work before 1967, and indeed, before 1948. It has always acted as a “trustee” of land for the “Jewish people” and as channel for the transfer of land ownership into Jewish hands. Some Palestinian villages destroyed after Israel was establishment were forested over by the JNF.

This reflects the problem at the heart of opposition to the occupation, the inability to effect real change: Many left-leaning Israelis (and non-Israelis) who fight the post-1967 settlement project believe that it is fundamentally different from the settlement of Palestine before 1948, and from the Israel of 1948-67. This belief enables them to separate the “terrible things happening in the West Bank” from the ideology underlying Jewish settlement there. But the ideology behind West Bank settlement is shared by the whole of Israel: it is the ideology which holds that this land is the birthright of a certain group of people whose claim is stronger than any other groups of people.

We must recognize that settlement in the occupied territories is a continuation and not an aberration of earlier Zionist settlement, and thus tie the suffering of the West Bank Palestinians to the injustices meted out to non-Jews within “Israel proper.” If we accept that the violence against Palestinians “there” is an expression of the same working premises which grant us Jews privileges “here,” we might find our quiet lives within the Green Line become strangely uncomfortable. This recognition might lead to more strident calls for an end to the occupation – and, I hope, an end to the state in which one group of people lords it over all others.

This is the awareness we should be raising, I believe. I do have a lot of sympathy for Ruttenberg’s opinion. I too question the efficacy and even the motives of such protests – but who am I to say that these “elderly Germans” are unable to think that perhaps, just perhaps, these young melodramatic protesters have a point worth pondering? Is an opinion piece in a national newspaper more likely to cause deep thinking than these “over the top” antics?

Furthermore, how are we to judge what is the most effective way of struggling against the occupation? Can we say with any certainty that one or another method has been more successful? Indeed, as the pachyderm marches on, can we say that one or another has been successful at all? Until we find a way of measuring the efficacy of one form of protest or another, surely we must encourage all forms and enable all those who desire change to express their desire in the way they think will be most effective.

Yonatan Preminger is a doctoral student researching the political economy of Israel, specifically labor representation, and a member of the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN), an independent organization uniting workers regardless of nationality, religion, gender or the color of their skin.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Yonatan, thank you for a well thought-out, constructive response. I appreciate your points, and I think may of them hold a valid place in key discussions.

      I, too, think Israelis have a lot to confront as they think about what sort of State they will have in the future. I believe the definition of a democracy (yes, I said the “d”-word in a sentence about Israel) is not how free the majority is, but rather who protected the minority is.

      Essentially, the status quo cannot continue … though I am of the opinion that Israel will push it along as long as possible, as it has done before, to change the “reality on the ground in its favour … until that’s no longer possible.

      I’m glad that you raised the question of efficiency, because the point I was trying to raise is this: yes, people saw the youtube clip and yes some people were talking about it. But, I imagine what ended up happening was the people who attended the concert – in response to their frustration – probably went home and cut a big ole cheque to the JNF, larger than what the organisation would have gotten had those people just bought tickets.

      Usually, in response to these stunts, people become more solidified in their positions. Sure, for those doing the stunts, maybe that means some more recruits and additional praise in their inner-circle. But the organisations they are trying to protest, as a result, are just getting stronger.

      As for Israelis – the people who are in a position to change themselves and to change the situation – I think there are interesting open-minded conversations happening. Those need to be nurtured and encouraged. Stunts like this make it harder for that to happen.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJM

        “Interesting open-minded conversations?” About colonization, oppression, and discrimination? Did you read what Yonatan wrote about the pachyderm?

        Asking Palestinians and those who stand with them to wait patiently for Israelis to have a few more “conversations” is asking them to accept continued oppression out of respect for the feelings of those responsible for it. That’s a little much; enough to disqualify you from being one of those who are in any “position … to change the situation.”

        Reply to Comment
      • In pure democracy a strong majority can do about anything which retains that voting majority (leaving aside the possibility of voting democracy out of existence). Rights jurisprudence prevents this and acts as a mechanism for the creation of new minorities as well as protecting present minorities. Many in Israel claim an “unwritten constitution” but it is becoming increasingly unclear whether this unseen things articulates rights. You have your Declarationof Independence which states ANY constitution must provide equal protection for rights of social and political equality. Yet it is ignored. You have a patriotic, historical platform, yet the mainstream ignores it. How can you build coaltions with an unwritten nothing?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Yonatan, you’re being incredibly generous to the Jewish National Fund, and in fact you’re ignoring a great deal of their activities.

      First, as for today, the JNF actually influences the land policy over 93% of the land of Israel. They hold 10% of the deeds directly, and then the remaining 83% of land is held under the jurisdiction of the Israel Land Authority (ILA) and the Development Authority (DA).

      The JNF appoints 6 of the 13 leaders of the ILA. While not a Zionist majority, this means that only one of the non-JNF-appointees can assert the Jewish-only character of lands, and that will be set.

      Indeed, the 93% of the land of Israel, according to Israel’s “Basic Law,” is “held in perpetuity for the benefit of the Jewish people.”

      Though this may be a damning indictment of the present activity, I strongly disagree with your statement that “Today, the JNF’s work is more controversial.”

      In the early 20th century, the JNF bought lands in Palestine to settle Jews. They also made detailed records of the Palestinian villages, finding which villages, and which people in which villages, would be amenable to land purchases.

      These village records were then made available to the Jewish Agency, David Ben Gurian, and eventually to the Haganah.

      Though the specifics have not come to light, these village files were utilized in carrying out the Nakba.

      I strongly suggest that you edit your article for historical clarity on the JNF. You can find out more through the Badil Resource Center – http://www.badil.org/en/al-majdal/itemlist/category/163-issue-43

      Reply to Comment
      • Yael Kahn

        Thanks Matt Graber for the correction regarding to the details and the extend to which the JNF is integral and dominant part of the Israeli systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians and in particular the land grab.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Kolumn9

      The entire thesis is silly. Yeah, why don’t you have the pro-Palestinian activists dress up as Nazis and throw feces at some Jews? I mean, until we find a way of measuring the efficacy of one form of protest or another, surely we must encourage all forms?

      Reply to Comment
    4. BOOZ

      I stopped reading this article when i ran across ” Israel proper” between brackets.

      If for MrPreminger there is no such thing as “Israel proper”, there is nothing I desire to hear from him.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carl

        Thank for that Booz. Next time you don’t read something, don’t hesitate to let people know.

        Reply to Comment
    5. BOOZ

      Carl :

      The reason why I stopped reading is fairly specified in Roee’s post above :

      Quote:
      Usually, in response to these stunts, people become more solidified in their positions. Sure, for those doing the stunts, maybe that means some more recruits and additional praise in their inner-circle. But the organisations they are trying to protest, as a result, are just getting stronger.

      As for Israelis – the people who are in a position to change themselves and to change the situation – I think there are interesting open-minded conversations happening. Those need to be nurtured and encouraged. Stunts like this make it harder for that to happen.”

      In Mr Preminger’s case, it is clear he reached my limits and that his recital alienates from the causes he pretends to defend people like me who are not particularly supportive (euphemism) of the present Israeli administration.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yochanan

        Israelis are not going to be the ones to change the situation, at least not of their own free agency. They will need to be coerced, through international isolation and US/EU funds being put under threat.

        Unfortunately, you can’t reason with the Afrikaaners until they see that that have no other option.

        Reply to Comment
    6. The Trespasser

      “Until we find a way of measuring the efficacy of one form of protest or another, surely we must encourage all forms and enable all those who desire change to express their desire in the way they think will be most effective.”

      Basically what author is saying is that if I want to protest against African refugees stealing bicycles and using building entrances as lavatories I’m free to try each and every option starting with organized demonstrations and ending with physical violence towards mentioned refugees. Until I find the most efficient form.

      Reply to Comment

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