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Israel social camp takes its baby steps

No, the social movement cannot afford to raise Palestinian issues right now. But it is coming

All over the place, pro-Palestinian activists are voicing a sharp criticism of the Israeli social justice movement: There can be no justice, they say, without raising the issue of the occupation and the beastly injustice done on daily basis to the Palestinians.

Right, but oh so wrong.

That the Palestinians suffer injustice and indignity is not in dispute – not even by the Israeli hasbara machine in its calmer moments. But to raise this issue now is to fracture the social justice movement too early.

It’s easy to sneer at the Israeli protesters. It’s also unjustified, unhelpful and downright stupid. A large number of Israelis have no experience of public protest. This wasn’t always the case: Before the second Intifada, which made Israeli civilians its prime target and thereby wiped out the Israeli peace movement, protest were much more common. The terror wave of 2001-2004, which attacked blameless civilians in cafés and on buses, in discothèques and in a few cases in the safety of their own homes, made Israelis cling to their government. Unfortunately, these governments were led by two of the greatest cynics in Israeli history: Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. Sharon expertly massaged the Israeli mind, avoiding the required criticism for running a war of attrition against the Palestinians – for that’s what it was, each side attacking the civilian population of the other side – by causing even more damage to the Palestinians. At the same time, he allowed Binyamin Netanyahu to wreak havoc on Israeli society, dismantling its social safety network, knowing in a time of war there will be no effective protest. There wasn’t.

Olmert, in a sense, was worse: Following the debacle of the Second Lebanon War, one poll found his popularity was: (a) Lower than that of Hassan Nasrallah; and (b) within the margin of error. Nasrallah got 4 percent, Olmert only 2 percent. Some people began calling him Lolmert. Even so, he clung to power, refused to resign, and limped on for 30 months more. And if it wasn’t for those meddling attorneys and their corruption charges, he’d probably run for office once more. This basically reduced Israeli parliamentary democracy to a sham: A hated ruler stays in power because his coalition justly fears an election, and is too feeble to rule but strong enough to survive.

The combined effects of the Sharon and Olmert period was, and to a great extent still is, public apathy. What we’ve seen in the last few weeks is tens of thousands of Israelis who leave their houses, despite the heavy heat of July and August, to protest in the streets.

For many of these protesters, this was their first demonstration. They had no previous experience of public activism, what it can achieve, and the sense of awareness and, yes, camaraderie it can create. They have learned to distrust their government; they have learned to listen to people on the left, and respect if not accept their opinions.

In a recent poll by Yediot Achronot, 91 percent of Israelis said the protests were a legitimate grievance. Seventy-seven percent further said they were not agitated by the New Israel Fund or other groups. This leaves us with an interesting finding: Some 14 percent think the protest are, in some way, agitated by the hated, monstrous NIF – and they don’t care.

People being to understand the ways they are being manipulated, they begin seeing the puppeteers’ strings. A taxi driver told me last Saturday night that he supported the protesters – but that he was afraid Netanyahu would disrupt them with some military move: “Maybe in Gaza, maybe in Lebanon.”

The Israeli public is throwing off years of lethargy, and begins to understand how it was lied to. Anyone watching the media, could see a bunch of people running around as if they were on fire, screaming this is a conspiracy. Almost without exception, they were either settlers or national-Orthodox. They understood what many ultra-leftist didn’t: Once the public starts seriously examining social policy, the settlers will come under the sharpest scrutiny ever. Israelis, goes the national mantra, cannot accept others taking advantage of them; and the settlers, the greatest moochers in the history of the country, understand a shit storm is heading their way. Unfortunately for them, the Palestinians will declare statehood in September and their reputation will be at its lowest.

So, we’re not dead yet – just recovering from a long, debilitating sickness, and taking our baby steps.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. nicolas B.

      Israeli are still taking their baby steps after decades, in a country which is not Syria. Frustration from the pro-Palestinian part is more than expected/justified.This social movement is a good start though.I’m just wondering what we would have thought if at the time of Apartheid Afrikaners were protesting about housing prices. Probably: but this is not the main issue! I understand the point you made about the necessary evolution of this movement before it raises the issue of Occupation/Apartheid, but we have been waiting for so long a change in Israeli mentality regarding this issue! Not easy to be full of hope…

      Reply to Comment
    2. Amir-Ras

      But Yossi, what about the other side of this analysis? maybe the protesters just don’t care about the occupation? even more than that, maybe they support the occupation, which is why it’s pretty much the only taboo subject in these demonstrations.
      -
      If by the time these protests end the protests will keep focusing on ethnically discriminatory social justice i think it’ll be pretty fair to say that the Israeli public is united in its support for the occupation, or rather in its indifference and lack of empathy toward the Palestinian struggle.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AYR

      I agree with the comments above; I do however have hope that not mentioning the occupation is a strategic decision on behalf of organizers to keep the country together in protest, united in the goal of dismantling the corrupt structures and tackling the economic issues that are responsible for the housing crisis…and coincidentally are linked to the settlements/occupation as well! Israel has to start somewhere. It can’t happen all at once. And anything that rocks Bibi’s boat is worthwhile.

      Reply to Comment
    4. weinstein henry

      But Amir-Ras, what about Yossi’s analysis?
      Have you read “It’s easy to sneer at the Israeli protesters. It’s also unjustified, unhelpful and downright stupid (…) Before the second Intifada, which made Israeli civilians its prime target and thereby wiped out the Israeli peace movement (…)” and so on.
      I don’t think so.
      You stay on the other side, with indifference and lack of empathy, re-writing your usual propaganda mantra stuff, and you don’t care at all about the Israeli protests

      Reply to Comment
    5. Ben Israel

      This comment of Yossi’s is a good illustration how, in spite of the pass of decades, the Israeli Left is still held in the clutches of an archaic, Marxist mind-set that can’t accept that not everyone thinks like they do:

      ===============================================
      Once the public starts seriously examining social policy, the settlers will come under the sharpest scrutiny ever. Israelis, goes the national mantra, cannot accept others taking advantage of them; and the settlers, the greatest moochers in the history of the country, understand a s– storm is heading their way.
      -===========================================

      Yossi feels this way about the settlers, so it just gotta be that deep down, everyone will agree with him, if only they had the facts…if only they thought “clearly”.
      I asked a friend of mine who was a former Marxist why the Israeli and and the Jewish Left never developed the culture of open debate and respect for other’s opinions that we associate with British and American political debate. He replied that Karl Marx, who the Israeli/Jewish Left adopted as their mentor over a century ago was believed to have discovered “the truth” and if only his “truth” could be implemented, utopia would be here. His truth was the only truth. The writings of he and his successors, such as Das Kapital and Lenin’s “What is to be Done” became holy writ.
      Lenin said that most of the common people were too stupid to comprehend the truth, so an elite vanguard was needed to take power in the name of the “masses” who would eventually be educated to become good, politically-aware proletarians and servants of the correct ideology.
      Thus, if someone disagreed with this, he was not merely wrong, but stupid and/or dangerous. To oppose them was heresy. Thus, opponents are not to be listened to respectfully, they were the enemy. Now, time passed and most of the Jewish/Israeli Left has chucked out this ideology but the mindset and attitude towards the political opposition remains. They are not to be debated with, they are simply dismissed.
      I recall once Yossi Beilin was confronted by a reporter who quoted Aryeh Stav, a well-known Right-wing writer. Beilin replied “why are you quoting him? He is a right-winger!”. The Left constantly tells us that the Left thinks “rationally” (everyone in the world lives only to make as much money as possible so if we give Arafat and his FATAH cronies money, they will suppress Palestinian terror!), whereas the Right thinks only “emotionally”. Thus, people who support the Right must be “reeducated”.
      Thus, we see Yossi is saying that “if only the masses understood the position settlers, they would certainly oppose them”. It is out of pure ignorance that the majority is sympathetic more or less with the settlement movement, regardless of willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians.
      Also Yossi’s comment about the people supposedly being “taken advantage” of is typical of this mindset which says “every man has his price”. Everything boils down to money and how much everyone can get. It is just not possible that people have other values than making as much money as possible. Also, as I said, the people are assumed to be stupid, as if they don’t realize that many “Left-wing” groups have been milking the system for years for money, for example the hundreds of millions of dollars in bailouts for the Left-wing favored Kibbutz movement, or money for all kinds of left-wing filmakers who turn out left-wing films that no one wants to see but the taxpayer is forced to pay for.
      I am aware that, according to Yossi’s bio, he did NOT originally come out of the Left/”progressive” camp, but in order to accepted by them, one has to learn how to talk and think like them. He has learned well.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Joseph

      Thank you for the article Yossi, I found it to be very interesting. It is always nice to get the inside story from an Israeli of what goes on. There is a basic point that bringing the Palestinian issue into these protests must be done in a strategic and careful way, that it is too soon to do so, but hopefully soon it can be gradually incorporated. Then, there’s the way you framed it which is basically blaming Palestinians for causing “the left” of the settler colony which stole their land and their livelihoods from them, to stop caring about them.

      I wonder how long under occupation it would take for Israelis to resort to terror tactics…I think one day in Qalandia checkpoint might do it. Yossi: I would like to respectfully ask if you have ever been inside a checkpoint (perhaps with a 2nd passport and the IDF didn’t know you were Israeli). If you haven’t, you have no idea what it feels like to live under occupation for even a few hours. Just try it and see how you feel. I have an American passport and I was in Qalandia checkpoint and I can tell you I understood in that moment why some Palestinians resort to terror. It is an indescribable feeling that you are powerless over your own life and the terror that this instills in you is something you cannot explain but must just feel to understand.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Amir-Ras

      Weinstein: your comment says nothing. Yossi see’s the situation and goes “Yeah it’s bad but look at all these excuses” while I’m saying “Yeah it’s bad, I think there is no excuse”.
      .
      That’s about it. I’ve been following the protests very closely and have also went to the large rallies, I’m not seeing anything about them that challenges the ethnocracy.
      .
      I hope Yossi is right but it actually looks like the protests have already been hijacked by a bunch of centrists with some very poor ideas and no backbone.

      Reply to Comment

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