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Normalcy, hope and the Israeli tent protesters

Hope, one of the most powerful and fickle of human emotions, was a philosophical obsession of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish philosopher. Spinoza paid a high social price in dedicating his life to the creation of philosophic system which valued rationalism above all else, especially hope and fear. The Israeli tent protests, which have rocked the country and this site over the last six weeks, have thrived on a momentum of hope in the absence of concrete language and goals. Similar to the historic presidential campaign of Barak Obama, the tent protests have been heavy on feelings but light on specific measures with which to carry them out.

Last week, Max Blumenthal and I published an article, based on extensive reporting, which described the core problems that we see in the tent protest movement. We argue that the separation principle and the form of cognitive dissonance which upholds it in Israeli society has been left untouched by the tent protests in an attempt to garner massive public support. Ultimately we claim that the tent protests are an example of the successful implementation of the separation principle in so far as they officially ignore the rights of all under Israeli rule.

More than two years ago, a social movement arose in Israel which has steadily grown despite incredible pressures from various forces. The Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, ostensibly embracing and acting for social justice through direct action, began in East Jerusalem as Israeli activists started to demonstrate in solidarity with Palestinians evicted from their homes by Israel in an attempt to solidify control over the conflicted city.

SJ Solidarity began as a reformulation of the Israeli left but its steadily rising numbers of Israeli participants over the years, many unfamiliar with political activism let alone Palestinian solidarity, have pushed it closer to the mainstream in Israel.

Many have been critical of SJ Solidarity, myself included, but there is little doubt that the movement is here to stay. Instead of harassing hope for a shared future with Palestinians through the deployment of flowery language of vague togetherness, Sheikh Jarrah has focused on action. It has been clear about its intentions, political positions and goals. After six weeks of unprecedented protests, it is time for the tent protesters to follow a similar program and define their political positions and, more importantly, their goals.

In the absence of concrete goals and positions, rifts have emerged between traditional partners over the tent protests. For the most part, Palestinians have been clear that a social justice movement that maintains official silence on the occupation is virtually impossible for them to support.

The occupation aside, some of the rifts created by the tent protests between Israelis and internationals, center on an important issue, Israeli normalcy. As seen in the emotional comments of my colleague Noam Shiezaf, the ability of Israelis to live as a normal people and exercise their right to hold political demonstrations about issues of their choosing is an important part of how the tent protests have been internalized in Israel. The tent protests are an example of this right in action. Therefore, the perceived rejection of this right  is akin to a personal attack and even as a rejection of Israeli identity in total. This is, perhaps, the most profound demonstration of the cognitive dissonance which Blumenthal and I address in our piece.

The demonstrators in SJ Solidarity, however implicitly, do not argue that Israel is a normal society. They argue for change, understanding that the actions of the Israeli government in occupied East Jerusalem are a symptom of a society anything but normal. Far from denying the Israeli right to normalcy; SJ Solidarity has, in practice, rejected the type of hopeful language employed by the tent protests in order to work on changing the issues which cause Israel’s normalcy problem.

A movement willing to suspend criticism and embrace forms of cognitive dissonance should and must be criticized using the existing social and political structures of the society. Papering over Israel’s dysfunctions with vague notions of social justice while lashing out at critics is not a recipe for a lasting revolution. The sooner that Israelis recognize this, the greater the prospects for a true revolution of consciousnesses inside Israeli society.  Hope left unfulfilled can result in tragic outcomes.

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    1. nadav franckovich

      you are still going on with this?

      the settlers participation in the j14 movement is minimal. 80% percent of the Israelis are still supporting the movement, but in the left much more than in the right wing, and among the settlers the support is very low. In fact, most of them claim that the j14 is anti-zionist…

      In no big rally was any settler one of the speakers, but almost in all of them there were arab speakers. Some of the big rallies were mutual joint arab-jewish demos, e.g in Haifa, jaffa and other places. In Haifa there was a 30,000 people demo that at least half of its participants were arab. There are many tent camps in arab towns and villages and almost none in the settlements. The talk about how the state’s money is going to the’ welfare state’ of the settlements instead of constructing a welfare state inside Israel is an issue inside the movement circles , and also the talk about the danger that the movement’s eventual achievements may basically maintain the current hegemony, if it will not work for the benefit of the periphery and lower classes, but only for the middle class.

      The 1948 arab tent in rotschild tent camp (the biggest t.a one) stands and stays active, while the settlers tent there suffered from an ongoing demos against it, physical resistance and many personal protests , and didn’t survive a week – and They went back to their hills in the west bank.
      in the last two weeks I went to several demos in biqat ono, a peripherial area not far away from t.a, where some small low class jewish towns are demonstrating in support of the j14 in spite of harsh reaction by the local city mayors, that are the government’s guys. And in each and every one of those demos there, the local speakers – lower class mizrahi people that are traditionally right wing voters – said, again and again, things like ‘we are standing here together , arabs and jews, black and white people, women and men’. And they said that to an audience which was all jewish, in small towns, away from tv cameras… you get the picture.

      So I think that even that some of the criticism about the j14 is correct, voices like joesph’s and max’s are pretty much overseeing the complexity of things inside the Israeli society, and are falling to the trap of binaric, shallow and pretty much unfair, instant , ready-made and very arrogant sight about the whole thing.

      No, this is not a revolution, but some things about the j14 are revolutionary. First of all, the awakening of a huge protest phenomena that insists not to exclude the arab citizens, and is using the term ‘people’ – in the first time of israel’s history – for all the people and not as a code word for ‘the jewish people’. Secondly, it turns the table on the dominant hegemonic governments’ usual talk that is all about national security, and instead raises the social-economical subject to the top priority, and insists to try and keep that up even during terror acts and even that September is on the corner.

      And by the way – a change (if will be achieved) in the neo-extra-capitalistic way that Israel is being run, will hopefully allow the lower class in Israel to improve their situation, and the poorest sector in Israel is the arab sector.

      So I think that it’s pretty much demagogic or simply wrong to adapt such a binaric opinion about the j14, because all I said above. But I also think that even if dana’s and max criticism was all true, it was still unfair to attack the j14 the way they do. As far as I can see, this opinion by them of how the j14 fails to conclude the Palestinian struggle is ALL they can and want to say about this exciting phenomena. But hey… is this a good journalism or a pure narrow one track minded deceive? Did they, in one of their many articles about the Palestinian struggle, EVER mentioned that the Palestinian struggle fails to contain the struggle for women rights, human rights inside the Palestinian society, or that it constantly fails to build real democratic establishments?

      Did foreign journalists that covered the late morrocan protest movement were all about the question if the 20th februar movement will not ‘ONLY’ achieve a constitutional change that will benefit the citizens, improve the rights of women and individuals in the kingdom and get a huge social-economical reform (they achieved all that), but were only keen about ‘the main question’ – will it free the west sahara hassanic people that are living under the morrocan occupation (it didn’t, and it didn’t even try – and I think it’s the maximum they could acheive)??

      and I don’t know what was the superjists views about the racist discrimination system in the usa, but I know that if a journalist that covered it to foreign audience, and didn’t even know English!!! (like max doesn’t even know Hebrew nor Arabic), would only bring up, again and again, his judgmental verdict of how it fails to change the situation of black people, than he may have been very right but still would make a very bad journalism.

      So, to sum up… I think that saying that the j14 is pure Zionistic, non revolutionary movement, is wrong, And that even if it was right, the way some people (who think it’s the case) are covering it is almost non ethical, and very superficial.
      Sorry for that long one, and for my English.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Thanks for the long comment Nadav. The point of this piece was primarily the fall out between some in the Israeli left and those abroad. The issues that you raise are important, however they are not specifically addressed in this piece. As I state in the piece, the issue of the normalcy of Israeli society is one of the driving factors in potentially toxic debate unfolding. I also think that hope in connection with the J14 protests is dangerous and is being used to isolate the protest from legitimate criticism. I fail to see how this piece, or even my piece with Max, demonstrates this line in your comment, ‘I think that saying that the j14 is pure Zionistic, non revolutionary movement, is wrong, And that even if it was right, the way some people (who think it’s the case) are covering it is almost non ethical, and very superficial.’Regardless, my response to your far reaching final state is my final paragraph in this post.

      Reply to Comment
    3. the always censored here

      Face it Dana: your only contribution as a white Ashkenazi American to the liberation of non-European Palestine is for you to do the right anti-Zionist act and somply leave the territory. Please use your American passport and go back to your white Ashkenazi home or become fullly Israeli like all of us who have no other passport.

      We don’t need and don’t want your help. We just want you do de-colonize yourself and your presence by removing your Ashkenazi non-Zionist self from the territory of non-European Palestine. Are you going to censor this as a good liberal American? We copied the text and shall see.

      Reply to Comment
    4. “I fail to see…” ditto. And if you listened more, you might have seen more. And then you wouldn’t be accused, unfortunately correctly, of malpractice.

      You also don’t realize how destructive your arrogance is. Most people I know in the radical left share worries about the social and political outlook of the Rothschild upheaval. What sets you apart is carelessness and lack of a political perspective. At least please let people know that you represent nobody but yourself.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Evildoer or, rather, Gabriel Ash,

      We are working on a response to your article, “Dana and Blumenthal do Tel Aviv” which will be published on another outlet.

      I have never stated that I represent anyone but myself. So far the accusations against Max and I’s piece have ignored the arguments we presented in any sort of factual rebuff.

      Your piece was one an example of a reaction to our piece which failed to challenge the substance of our arguments in a factual way. Strikingly you wrote, “Everything [Blumenthal and Dana] say about the limitations of the protest movement, I agree” Then you wrote we were not focusing on the supposed “process” of “changing Israeli consciousness.” However, you pointed to nothing factual to support your claim that such a process was underway and did not attempt to explain what the process was. In the absence of time, I will leave it at that until a fuller response is published.

      I am living in Israel and not in Switzerland, I think that my perspective on the events taking place on the ground might be different than yours.

      Update: Gabriel, Max has beaten me to it. Check out his new post

      Reply to Comment
    6. Gabriel

      I don’t think it’s fair to expect so much out of Israelis. When people protest anywhere, whether it be Egypt or the US, it is almost inevitably about themselves. Israelis are protesting about their own lives, about their lack of power. Inevitably, this does intersect with Palestinian issues, but to expect Israelis to focus on those ahead of their own problems is not realistic.

      There has not been many hopeful signs out of the left in Israel for the last 15 years so at this point, I’ll take what I can get. The tent protests are hardly perfect but they are something.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Mely Lerman

      You guys are so busy being right that you don’t see the making of History just beside you

      Reply to Comment