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A failed revolution: Why Israel's next social protest will be a violent one

The next social protest will be violent because the demand will no longer be for change but for a revolution – and revolutions are violent by nature. Two years after Israel’s social protests, poverty is only increasing, a small number of people control the economy and politicians are still ignoring the grievances of those who elected them.

By Ilan Manor

J14 protesters burn government reports which weren’t implemented, Tel Aviv, July 7th 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

The next social protect in Israel will be a violent one, and not simply because the last one failed. The next protest will be violent because of the social stagnation that currently characterizes Israeli society, a stagnation that prevents social mobility. The next protest will be violent because of the government’s economic policies that are in direct contrast to the values expressed by half a million Israelis who took to the streets in 2011.

The next social protest will be violent because the anguish of the lower classes has fallen on deaf ears. The financial status of Israel’s lower classes has not improved over the past two years. On the contrary, it has only worsened. The deteriorating welfare of Israel’s lower classes was made evident on Tuesday thanks to the publication of the annual “Alternative Poverty Report” by Latet, an Israeli nonprofit that serves needy populations.

According to the report, there are now more Israeli families with two wage earners who live under the poverty line than there were in 2011. In addition, Latet’s findings indicate an increase in the number of families who are forced to skip meals due to financial difficulties or elderly pensioners who are unable to afford medical treatments. Two years after the social justice protest swept Israel, more Israeli children are forced to drop out of school in order to help sustain their families and more Israelis are unable to afford prescribed medications.

The fear of financial hardships is not limited to the poor. Latet’s report shows that some 45 percent of Israelis fear for their financial security. Amongst these one can find Israelis belonging to the middle class, Israelis who also feel betrayed by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, whom they saw as their champion of social justice issues but whose conservative economic policies have done nothing to better their lives. Yet these Israelis are mistaken for Lapid has proven a diligent servant of his true political base, the Israeli financial elite. After all, Lapid received the most votes in Israel’s wealthiest townships.

The most striking aspect of Israel’s current financial reality is the widening gap between the rich and poor. As more and more Israelis find themselves below the poverty line, Israel’s ‘one percent’ continues to act like a pack of jet-setting Bon Vivants even though they now preside over crumbling financial empires. One by one, Israel’s “tycoons” are finding themselves amassing massive debt and losses and one by one, these “tycoons” refuse to relinquish control over their empires and chauffeurs. Israel’s financial elite acts as if it rules by divine right and is therefore not accountable for its gross incompetence.

The next social protest will be a violent one because the previous protest did not lead to a structural change in Israeli society, nor to a normative change in the behavior of the Israeli elite, nor or to a change in the country’s financial policy. What remains of the J14 protest is politics and appearances. Politics in the sense that the protest did serve as a political catapult launching the careers of many newly elected MKs such as Yair Lapid’s “Yesh Atid” party and Stav Shafir and Itzik Shmuli of the Labor party. However, since their arrival in the Knesset, most MKs have turned mute, leaving their zeal behind. Appearances in the sense that Israeli corporations are now willing to lower the prices of butter and cappuccinos in order to exhibit a social conscious.

Israel’s ‘one percent’ knows that the next protest will be violent; it fear this, and rightly so.

One expression of this fear is the reluctance of Israeli commercial television to deal with the social violence that has already erupted. Last week, both of Israel’s commercial channels dedicated a brief segment near the end of their newscasts to the story of a couple who had squatted in a government owned apartment and threatened to commit suicide should police evict them. The couple withdrew the threat of suicide, thereby ending the standoff, after being assured that their petition to stay in the apartment would be reviewed by social services. A few days ago, workers in an Israeli factory held its management hostage in response to the firing of three fellow workers. This lack of attention by the commercial channels is not surprising as they are owned by the ‘one percent.’ During the 2011 protest, the media embraced the protestors and in doing so, neutralized them. This time the commercial media is simply ignoring the protest.

The next social protest will be violent because the demand will no longer be for change but for a revolution – and revolutions are violent by nature. The messages of the next protest will not be featured on Facebook profiles but will be sprayed on the walls of Israeli banks. All that is not to advocate violence but rather to say that the violence has already begun, and soon it will be too late to stop it. This is a wakeup call for our government, yet in all likelihood, this call too will fall on deaf ears.

Ilan Manor is studying towards a PhD in Communication at Tel Aviv University. He has previously contributed to +972 Magazine, the Jewish Daily Forward and the Jerusalem Post. He blogs at www.ilanmanor.com

WATCH: Thousands block highway, attack banks in J14 protest
Solidarity vs. militarism: The Zionist contract and the struggle to define J14 

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    1. Michael W.

      Is there any historical precedence?

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        A violent revolution in a thriving democratic capitalist country with a 6% unemployment rate? No. There is no precedent for it, and there is no legitimate justification for it either. The author is free to vote for change. The author is free to demonstrate for change. The author is free to run for office in order to change the system.

        That the author and the party he votes for can’t get support from any significant portion of the population demonstrates that there is little support for his “economic values”. His only supposed justification for his position is a protest in which 500,000 Israelis took part. I know a lot of people that participated in that event. Outside of the hard-core leftist/socialist groups that tried to appropriate the protest, the vast majority of the protesters wanted cheaper prices. That desire is very well reflected in the policies of the current government. So far they have not been very successful, but it is pretty silly to suggest that the government is not making attempts in that direction, especially ministers Bennett, Ariel and Katz. Bennett is trying to remove the impediments to importing cheaper goods. Ariel is signing overall agreements with cities (Kiryat Bialik, Rehovot, Rosh Hayin) for building massive numbers of apartments. Katz is removing the monopolies that currently exist over the ports and is working towards making it cheaper to travel. The government as a whole is trying to introduce more competition. Certainly these are not the policies that the author wants, but without a doubt the intent is to lower the cost of living thus answering the main complaint of the protests.

        Even the gripe the author has against the “tycoons” is problematic given that his link is to an article where a “tycoon” has been stripped of control over his empire and so has been punished for his incompetence. Likewise the government has passed a law to limit the concentration of control over the country’s economic enterprises. Large companies will be forced to sell off their assets and will be prevented from continuing to exist as the keiretsu-style entities they currently are.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Maa

      Poor people aren’t angry, they’re desperate. Desperate people don’t start revolutions. As you said, revolutions mean instability, and instability is a bad if you’re poor.

      Here’s what desperate people do: they vote for extremist, authoritarian leaders. They give up all their rights and do whatever they’re told. When they do attack someone, it’s at the behest of those rulers. And yes, it’s violent. Very violent.

      It’s not the government you should be warning. They know what’s happening. Some of them are counting on it.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Vadim

      There are always voices calling for a violent protest. Some openly call for it as if it’ll make anything better. Other, like you, only “warn”. Only “remind” and “explain” the people why they should protest violently and why it’s justified. After all, we must educate the proletariat to instill the material scientific outlook of the world and the sense of proletarian internationalism.

      Reply to Comment
    4. William Burns

      Poor Israeli Jews will never revolt as the system guarantees their superiority to the Arabs, just as poor southern whites who got screwed by their elites never revolted because the system guaranteed their superiority to the blacks. The advantages of ruling an ethnically divided society.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Dude, WHAT?

        What freaking superiority over Arabs?!

        I hate it when people with absolutely no idea what’s going on here have an opinion and the audacity to write about it…

        Reply to Comment
        • William Burns

          Jews make more money, Arabs are routinely discriminated against in terms of housing and land, new communities are built for Jews and not Arabs even when the Arab population is expanding, Arabs are discriminated against in terms of education, etc. National symbols such as the flag and national anthem privilege Jewish identity. All of this is well-known and not concealed in the “Jewish state.” Do you actually believe that Israel is run on a basis of ethnic equality, or are you pretending to be stupider than you actually are?

          Reply to Comment
    5. Vadim

      “Jews make more money” – ALL Jews? What about the Haredim or new Olim? Is it by decree of the law?

      “Arabs are routinely discriminated against in terms of housing and land, new communities are built for Jews and not Arabs even when the Arab population is expanding”

      This is not as simple as you portray it. Land allocation in Israel is very problematic for all of us (just look at the soaring prices of real estate). The state does not build new communities, it only allocates land and approves programs. While this could actually be a point – it is wrong to compare Jewish and Arab population in general. Many Arabs live in rural areas and we should compare them to Jews in rural areas. You should also take into consideration the huge amount of illegal building in the Arab sector.

      “Arabs are discriminated against in terms of education” – what do you mean? Do they receive less money for the government or are their cities\villages always broke because of extremely law tax income? Again, compare them with Jewish schools of similar socio economic status.

      I studied in the Technion, which is like Israel’s MIT. Arab presence in the civil engineering faculty was astounding and we had a fair amount of Arabs in Electrical engineering as well. Some people were talking about an affirmative action, but I don’t know anything concrete about that.

      “National symbols such as the flag and national anthem privilege Jewish identity” Well of course – Israel is a Jewish state. Everyone is an equal citizen, but a Jewish state it still is.

      Unfortunately, Israel seldom runs on any basis. There are many powers and interests which pull in different directions. I know we do try and I know we don’t always succeed. I also know that a hundred years of conflict don’t do much good to relations and trust between people and I’m sure that affects all parties involved. Maybe you could overlook prejudices and mistrust born of wars, we don’t always succeed and our neighbours fail completely.

      All countries have their stronger and weaker populations and there are many reasons for their statuses. It doesn’t always imply a state organized policy of discrimination. Other reasons may be in effect as well (cultural differences or antagonism towards the state). I do not think we are perfect, sadly we are far from it. But the way you simplify complex issues into “Discriminated Arabs” and “Racist Jewish state” does more harm than good because it prevents a real discussion. I’m not even going to comment about the Communist nonsense you wrote before.

      You don’t know me, and you have no clue how smart or stupid I am. Don’t assume anything about people that disagree with you. It’s stupid.

      Reply to Comment