+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Solidarity vs. militarism: The Zionist contract and the struggle to define J14

Two parallel demonstrations took place on Saturday night in the fair city of Tel Aviv: one calling for equal duties, the other for equal rights, and both defining themselves as part of J14. Why the split, and where is it going?

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

Itzik Shmuli, leader of the national student union, did not join any of the recent weeks’ J14 demonstrations for social justice. This aspiring politician, dubbed by media last year as the “responsible adult” in the movement, even went to the trouble of telling off demonstrators after a few bank windows were shattered during a vibrant demonstration two weeks ago, and chose not to partake even in the more moderate of the two demonstrations that took place in Tel Aviv last Saturday.

Last night, however, he chose to return to the streets, alongside several other more mainstream J14 activists, ex-military men, several ministers and MKs, and a group of right wing groups such as Im Tirzu. The cause, dubbed by some a “natural part of J14,” was to fight for the mandatory military enlistment of all citizens, ultra-Orthodox and Arabs alike. Tens of thousands rallied at the museum square in central Tel Aviv and demanded that the government force Israelis to “share the burden equally,” and to take away social benefits from those who don’t.

Protest in favor of an equal draft for all Israeli citizens, including Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, July 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

As speakers were going on and off the stage, about 1,000 other J14 protestors marched the streets of Tel Aviv, blocking main roads, attaching anti-foreclosure posters to banks, and setting fire to government bills and reports printed on cardboard.

For more on the draft issue from +972:
 >Palestinian citizens cannot be expected to serve Jewish state / by Fady Khoury
>Debate on draft reform moves Israel further away from democracy / by Noam Sheizaf

As opposed to the main rally at the museum, this demonstration was organized within about 24 hours, and got none of the media support that the rally did. (Three of the big national papers – Yedioth Ahronoth, Ma’ariv and Israel Hayom – showed clear sympathy for the pro-draft rally in their Friday editions, and the two former published calls to join it.)

J14 protesters demonstrate in front of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, July 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

Also in contrast to the rally, this demonstration was about equal rights, not equal duties. Slogans chanted were aimed at capitalism, the banks and the government, and at parts also at the army and entire Israeli security apparatus – especially as demonstrators passed by the Ministry of Defense. The military “Racoon” surveillance vehicle made a second appearance and photographed everyone at the demonstration. Dozens of undercover police were spotted in the demonstration, but unlike two weeks ago – police allowed the uncoordinated march, and no arrests were made.

J14 protesters gather around rmy surveillance car (nicknamed "Raccoon") used by the Israeli police to monitor their rallies. June 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

The breakdown of the Zionist contract

So why two demonstrations? Why the split in J14? One has to look into the history of Zionism and the State to understand this one. The founding social contract of Zionism was based on the notion that all Jews must stick together, especially in combat against Arabs but also otherwise against a hostile world, and in exchange they would enjoy the benefits of a welfare state. Of course this was never actually the case, as men and women were never equal in the army and thus neither in civilian life, and Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews were also treated differently, the latter being constantly discriminated against – but the hegemonic ethos survived. That is, until the 1980s.

 When the neo-liberal economy started taking hold of Israel, the Zionist contact started to lose ground. Privatization and cuts in health, housing, education and healthcare took their toll on society; the army started losing its near-sacred status; upper-class individuals realized they no longer needed the army to maintain their position in the economy; and the lower classes could afford less and less to lose two to three years of paid work. By no coincidence, this period between 1990 and 2010 was also when the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews avoiding the draft took an immense leap upwards.

Protest in favor of an equal draft for all Israeli citizens, including Arabs and ultra-Orthodox, July 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

The entire J14 movement, I believe, is a late repercussion of neo-liberalism’s breaking of the Zionist contract. Stemming from the middle class disappointment at having kept its side of the deal only for the state to neglect its part, people took to the streets. What they found in the streets, however, was much more complex. Uniting for the first time in local mainstream history with the periphery of Mizrahi Jews and with some Palestinians with Israeli citizenship – many in the Ashkenazi middle class suddenly realized that the old contract wasn’t as good for many as it had been for them.

 This is were the friction comes in: while some have responded to this discovery by taking a step back, stating they only wish to reclaim the old “welfare state” and prove their loyalty to the patria with outspoken militarism, others take a step forward, reject the ancient contract, and take from it only the notion of solidarity – which is now finally being enhanced and widened to include all citizens.

J14 protest, Tel Aviv, July 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

It is no coincidence that the government and most of the media is treating the former J14ers, who find it easier to unite with right-wing groups like they did yesterday, with respect. The latter, comprised of left wingers who try to expand solidarity even further to include Palestinians in the occupied territories as well, are branded as “anarchists” or “criminals,” tailed by a military vehicle, harrassed by police – with the media either ignoring or criticizing them.

Police monitoring a "social justice" protest in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

Yet this is all, I wish to argue, a blessed part of J14. It is a struggle within the struggle, a fight for a new sort of discourse, and an ongoing process in which people on the streets and on the social networks are constantly learning and redefining themselves. It is the most basic and necessary thing in a democracy and it is something that was impossible to imagine in Israeli society of old – until the first tent sprung up on July 14, 2011. It is unclear where it is all going, but it is fascinating.

J14 protesters march in Tel Aviv, July 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)


Read also:
J14 two weeks ago: WATCH: Thousands block highway, attack banks in J14 protest
J14 last week: Thousands march in Tel Aviv; J14 protesters block J’lem light rail

Noam Sheizaf contributed to this report

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. XYZ

      When you have demonstrators holding up pictures of Che Guevara, who was a Communist who had people summarily shot as “enemies of the people” and who played a role in setting up a corrupt, degenerate Communist state in Cuba which, I understand that now its leader, Fidel Castro admits was a failure, then don’t come and complain that you don’t understand why the public at large regards the demostrators as a fanatic, extremist fringe.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Haggai Matar

      Without ever going o the question of Che – it’s one person with that picture, and there have been people holding hat picture in demonstations ast year as well, just like others caryy Israeli flags. Again – it’s part of the new discourse and dialog of ideas

      Reply to Comment
    3. AYLA

      @Haggai–thank *you* for being the adult in the room. This is a beautiful, balanced analysis, and since I’m always working to understand what it was like here over the past few decades and how that shapes everyone I know and this place, I really appreciate it.
      This *is* fascinating. Without even taking the historical trajectory into account, it seems that those marching for equal duties are raising some interesting questions, however inadvertently, that they will now have to wrestle with. The most obvious example is simply why Palestinians cannot see themselves serving in the Israeli army. In fact, it is nearly cruel to ask Palestinian Israelis to uniform-up, given the relationship between the Israeli army and Palestinians in the occupied territories. But those are issues that most of those marching for equal duties usually tune out. Turns out those questions–which cannot be ignored if we’re asking for equal duties–happen to overlap, a lot, with the questions raised by the equal rights camp.
      As for the frustration with the growing number of religious citizens who don’t serve and live off the taxes we pay, I hear you, everyone. And: putting them in uniform, with guns? Scarier than taxes.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Richard Witty

      Rights and responsibilities. Everyone has both.

      J14 as well.

      Is the question of Arab and Haredi service only of “military” obligation, or is it a more comprehensive obligation, allowing a term of community service in lieu of military obligation.

      With the implication that that option would then eventually be afforded to all, military vs community service.

      That change in language, and change in reality, affects ALL of the political/moral math of the issues.

      I personally regard the destructive anarchist actions (in contrast to mutual aid anarchist) as a gross distraction and distortion of the movement (and likely including many agent provocateurs – whether governmental, partisan, or just nihilist opportunist distractors).

      J14 will succeed when it gets to living rooms, not abstracted political urban chat, and not the street, and not “action” defined as single demonstrations.

      Change is change in the way that people live, from mutual animosity or indifference (resulting from noisy commercial culture) to mutual respect and help.

      That only happens face to face, and the pallette for that change is the extent that people eat with each other, help each other build their homes and co-create landscape, visit the elderly and sick (yeah Jewish orthodoxy).

      Reply to Comment
    5. To move the political structure you will have to force contradictions upon it. A universal draft will do so: the privileged position of the settlers will undergo attrition, and Palestinians of Israeli citizenship (god, how many ways can this be said until a politically correct form emerges) will be placed in a venue in which they will indeed be subject to discrimination, but they will also have, facially, redress mechanisms at hand. I do not expect these mechanisms to play out at all fairly at first, but discontent would increase over time. Those papers supporting the rightish equal obligation will not really understand that such obligation will eventually agitate for equal, recognized, rights.
      One can advocate a lottery draft to keep the size of the IDF in check; and as well or just on its own a national service lottery giving the winners the option of service rather than conscription into the IDF. This latter would also force definitions of such service, expanding discourse between Israeli citizens of different races (there, a new way to say it) at the political level.
      I do not expect lotteries to fly now, but advocating an attack on corporate capitalism while ignoring draft universality seems just another way for the left to construct an unsustainable position, remaining pure in never never land. You have to chose something which will work in some form, not something which would be beautiful if ever implemented with no hope of that outcome.

      Reply to Comment
    6. XYZ

      Okay, you want to dialogeu about the message that these protestors support Che Guevara and what he stood for? Here is a link to an article about him in Wikipedia:


      I now bring a quote from it:
      Though much opposition to Guevara’s methods has come from the political right, critical evaluation has also come from groups such as anarchists, Trotskyists, and civil libertarians, who consider Guevara an authoritarian, anti-working-class Stalinist, whose legacy was the creation of a more bureaucratic, authoritarian regime.[20] Johann Hari, for example, stated that “…Che Guevara is not a free-floating icon of rebellion. He was an actual person who supported an actual system of tyranny, one that murdered millions more actual people.”[21] Detractors have also theorized that in much of Latin America, Che-inspired revolutions had the practical result of reinforcing brutal militarism for many years.[22]


      So that’s it…the message of at least some of the protestors is that want a Stalinist tyranny here? You think most Israeli’s want that? And if it merely a protest against “capitalism”…do you that Israelis want a return to the stagnant, corrupt Socialist state Israel had in the past where it took 5 years to get a telephone, but people who had friends or relatives in high places in the MAPAM, MAPAI parties or Histadrut could get all kinds of goodies by way of “proteksia” that the average citizen could onlhy dream of? All I can say is keep it up with extremist messages like the one with the picture of Che is broadcasting (if indeed they even know anything about the real Che). This will discredit the movement faster than anything the “forces of reaction” might do.

      Reply to Comment
    7. PAUL

      I agree it is fascinating, it is a peculiar fast-track maturation of Israeli society all played out in public. The myth of the singular “Israeli” is dead..

      One demo is for equal rights, one demo for equal responsibilities. In any mature democracy all rights come with responsibilities and vice versa..
      The question is do the equal responsibility demonstrators (North Tel Aviv secular types) understand where their logic is bringing them…its a new inclusive definition of what it means to be Israeli….many I suspect harbour a desire to return to a kind of secular-Askenazi hegemony… The genie however is out of the bottle…

      fascinating indeed….

      Reply to Comment
    8. AYLA

      XYZ–do you really want us to find a sign from the pro-equal-duties march that is extreme and scary and talk about it all day?

      Reply to Comment
    9. XYZ

      First let me make clear, I am not opposed to free speech, I would not arrest someone carrying a picture of an odious person like Che Guevara. But let’s say someone carried a photo Hitler. Don’t forget that his movement was called “National SOCIALISM”. It had strong anti-capitalist tendencies that were praised by Stalin’s propaganda organs during the time of their quasi alliance (August 1939 to 22 June 1941-the day of the German invasion of the USSR). Would you think it would be accepted by the protestors, or would “sadranim” (people in charge of organizing the demostration) would allow it?
      Che isn’t much different in many people’s eyes. Thus, if they want this message that “Che is okay” to go out, they shouldn’t be surprised if there is a strong reaction against it.

      Reply to Comment
    10. XYZ

      BTW you expressed the famous message that there are too few and too many religious soldiers, at one and the same time.

      Reply to Comment
    11. AYLA

      xyz–to your second point. yes.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Prometheus

      ” It is unclear where it is all going, but it is fascinating.”
      That is the problem.
      These protesters have no realistic agenda and, frankly, despite being Israelis, have a rather little clue of what (and why) is going on in Israel.

      One question: How comes that Germany, which has about 40% less insolation (solar energy received by earth) have produced more than 18 TWh of electricity, while Israel produces a miserable fraction of that, with exact number unknown to the public, but much less than Germany, in my estimation 10-30% compared per capita, probably 8-14% in absolute numbers.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Richard Witty

      Che Guevara in a poster doesn’t mean anything.

      There are MANY within the J14 movement. Its a good thing.

      Find what you have in common and participate in those areas. If 100 food buying clubs in Tel Aviv/Jaffa start up and you join one of them, then J14 will have been a success for you.

      If 30 free health clinics open up and someone from the clinic comes to your home in an emergency, then J14 will have been a success for you.

      If 20 skills centers open, then J14 will have been a success.

      If the government shifts from likud/israel beitanhu to likud/kadima/labor, then maybe that is a partially success, assuming that they actually change policies.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Prometheus

      “assuming that they actually change policies.”
      They won’t. And if they will they will only worsen it.

      Reply to Comment
    15. XYZ

      The Orthodox/religious sector of society has for years operated organizations like those you mentioned, whose services are open to all Israelis, both religious and non-religious Jews in addition to the Arab population, and they did it on a voluntary, NON-POLITICAL basis. No pictures of Che Guevara, no demonstrations blocking roads causing inconvenience to many people and without smashing bank windows. Without being against ANYONE, capitalist or not.
      (One well-known example is Yad Sarah which loans out medical equipment.)

      Reply to Comment
    16. sh

      “(One well-known example is Yad Sarah which loans out medical equipment.)”
      Rents not loans. And, yes, I know the site says loans, but try it.

      Reply to Comment
    17. ori

      yesterday and also on other occasions i have been participating in the j14th protest. as far as i can tell most participant’s political views range between ‘Meretz left’ and what is left-of-Meretz, adding all sorts of communist organizations and sympathizers (not that there is something wrong with that:)). i doubt if there is any substantial group of “new comers” or previous-centrists.
      it is also apparent that some of the “right-wing-mizrachi-that-bibi-disapointed” (“meuchzavei likud”) are quit dissatisfied with this situation. these are far-left demonstrations where social justice in its narrow sense diminishes in importance with each demo.
      i think that eventually these characteristics will rise to public attention and there will be much less sympathy for j14.
      i hope i’m wrong.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Henry Lowi

      Political differentiation within the “social justice” movement is not a bad thing. To the extent it contributes to political clarification, it is a good thing. It is very important to maintain an inclusive and activist focus. I have suggested raising a call to set up tent-camps all over the country with the demands: “No to Police violence. No to IDF violence. Solidarity for social justice for all.” That is a principled a potentially very broad appeal.

      At the same time, regime-sponsored militarism masquerading as “social justice” must be confronted by a radical social justice agenda and an anti-militarist agenda. The Israeli militarists, racists, and colonialists want to impose their values and their control and their discipline on the Haredim and on the Palestinian oppressed. We oppose them unconditionally. But, the revolutionary answer to militarism is not pacifism. As long as there is a military, it doesn’t make sense to have everyone armed and trained except for the oppressed. We should treat the right to bear arms and the right to military training as the right of a free populace. We should find the opportunities to raise the demands: “Right to arming and military training for all, from the River to the Sea. Recognize the right of anyone to object to participate in arming and military training for reasons of conscience. Impose trade-union supervision and community-based supervision on the conditions of military service.”

      That will counteract militarism and build up a revolutionary community spirit of equality and solidarity.

      In the short term, however, there is a need to reach out to those outside downtown Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and encourage them to re-activate themselves and re-organize a country-wide social justice movement with a clear anti-capitalist and anti-militarist focus. Put the people, all the people, at the centre, not the bankers and not the “state”.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Richard Witty

      To the extent that the orthodox provide services, that are of the mutual aid variety, they are part of J14.

      To the extent that that aid is not discrimminatory (however large or small the slicing), then they are an example to be applied and admired.

      You could participate in that, fully, rather than ridicule it.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Kolumn9

      What is fascinating is how tiny the J14 protests are this year. It seems that it is gradually dissipating as its ideology keeps moving further and further left on both economic and political issues. It is almost like shouting extremist left-wing slogans has the impact of driving away the mainstream. Who could have guessed?

      The revolution has been cancelled due to lack of interest.

      Reply to Comment
    21. XYZ

      Neither would I nor my friends would participate in ANY demonstration along with people carrying pictures of Che Guevara or red flags or with people denouncing “capitalism”, no matter what it was they claim they want.

      As I side issue, could someone explain why we there are people wearing clown suits or masks at these demonstrations ? I interpret it as a message saying “the whole system is a joke”.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Richard Witty

      In anti-Vietnam marches of the early 70’s, there were often communist parties represented at the marchest, carrying big signs, implying that they were authoritative, and some combination of “join us/we speak for you”.

      I calmly wore my smile as my poster.

      Go, talk (mostly listen).

      Organizing comes from hearing of people’s needs, not so much of their positions.

      Hearing of people’s needs is not incompatible between anarchists hearing of people’s needs, haredi, consumer advocates, legislators.

      The question is of what one does with listening. Organizing for mutual good? or imposition of a thought-police?

      The organizing for mutual good is the only substantive test of the J14′ success. If people end up helping each other (including those that aren’t there), then it is a success.

      If they end up talking to themselves only, then it is a failure.

      Reply to Comment
    23. Click here to load previous comments