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Tent protest in polls: One big unhappy middle class

Recently published polls regarding the social protest reveal potential for major political changes in Israel, though not necessarily immediate ones

Israelis protesting in Tel Aviv in demand for social justice, July 30 2011 (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

The Tent Protest has been dominating the news cycle in Israel for two weeks, and now there are also a couple of interesting polls regarding its possible political impact.

While it would be unwise to try and predict what sort of effect these unprecedented demonstrations will have on Israeli politics, the polls do confirm some of the hunches we had in the last three weeks, and most notably, a potential for far-reaching changes in the political system in the years to come.

–    The support for the protest crosses sectors and party lines. According to Channel 10’s poll conducted on Monday, 88 percent of Israelis support the protest. The middle class parties lead the way: 98 percent of Kadima voters (!), 95 percent of Labor’s and even 85 percent of Netanyahu’s Likud voters find the protest just. Even if these figures dropped in the last couple of days—which had some fractions and public disputes in the protest movement—they are still exceptionally high.

–    The attempts to discredit the protest have mostly failed. Government spokesperson and rightwing organizations tried to tie the protest to left wing movements, claiming that it is a politically-motivated move aimed personally against PM Netanyahu. Still, 74 percent of the public think that the protest is a genuine one, and only 22 percent find it to be politically motivated.

–    The hard right is the only group not identifying with the protest. Half of Shas’ voters and most of those voting for the settlers’ parties think the protest is politically motivated. Voters of those parties are more inclined to oppose the protest than any other group. I believe that these groups sense that the protest might challenge the dominant political arrangements in Israel – ones with benefit the settlers and the religious parties.

–   The protesters reject the major opposition and the coalition parties alike. I wouldn’t take the headline of the Globes-Jerusalem Post’s poll—about a possible social party winning 20 seats in the coming elections—too seriously. There is a long time until the elections and it’s impossible to know which issues will dominate the campaign. Still, it’s very interesting to see where these 20 seats (roughly 16 percent of the votes) come from: 4-5 seats from Kadima, 2-3 seats from Likud, 2-3 seats from Labor, and some more votes from Meretz and undecided voters. The Arab parties and the extreme right are not hurt by the protest.

Those figures match the Channel 10 poll – it’s the middle class that supports the protest more than any other group, and it’s the parties on the center and left of the political map which voters are unhappy with. This is good news for those (like me) who think that Kadima and Labor cannot promote progressive agenda. It seems that many of those parties’ voters are giving up hope on them as well.

–    The best option for the government is to negotiate with protesters and possibly try to co-opt them. According to the Jerusalem Post, 45 percent of the public thinks that the protesters should negotiate with the government to try to obtain their demands, 29 percent said the demonstrations should go on in their current format. If the government looks serious enough, it could cut the popular support for the demonstrations by two thirds.

To sum it up, all figures point to a unique phenomenon: the secular middle class – usually the backbone of society—is unsatisfied with the political and economical trends, and more important, with the entire political system (usually it’s the other way around – the more you move to the edges of the system, the less satisfied people there are). Under these circumstances, the potential for major political changes—though not necessarily immediate ones—is enormous.

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    1. Mitchell Cohen

      I am religious and have always voted to the right of Likud, yet I support and sympathize with these protesters.

      Reply to Comment
    2. richard Allen

      I’m not sure how negotiating with the government would help, since this is primarily about rent. UNLESS, and here is a great idea in any event, the government actually restructure the way taxes are paid so that landlords actually pay the arnona, like in every other country.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Taoist

      Thanks for the data. What’s flabbergasting about this social/housing movement, is the balancing act the Israeli middle class is performing between their immediate needs and the long term conflicts in their surroundings. It appears as if for this social/housing movement to show its head above the murky waters of Israeli politics, they had to choose not to see the big white elephant in the room: the occupation. Of course, the “shock & awe” neo-liberal recipe of savage capitalism Israel has suffered, big thanks to Netanyahu’s clique and his tycoon supporters, has done its job sacking the middle class. However, for outsiders (US), it is difficult to understand the kind of mental gymnastics at play when a sizable protest take place, and the link between the cost of the occupation and the current economic difficulties is not made. I wonder if that has to do with the bankrolling of Israel the US does with our taxes, and Israelis assume that, since we pay for their defense (plus a lot more), the occupation is a government matter, not an issue that pertains to the Israeli people. Economics 101 dictates there is always an opportunity cost to everything, and that includes the choice between guns and butter (or guns and cottage cheese.) Therefore, what the social/housing unrest is showing us, is the cost of the occupation and its direct effect on Israeli society. How can the occupation be ignored, when confronting the socio/economic demons that neo-liberalism unleashes in any society? Have Israelis been so brainwashed as to believe the occupation is their God-given right? Can they see the eroding effect of the occupation in Israel at home and abroad, the enormous toll it takes on their society and Israel’s standing the world over? Maybe the majority of Israelis can’t see the occupation as one of the sources of their current predicament, but their support for the protests across the board, as the poll data informs, is telling us that at least they can feel it.


      Reply to Comment
    4. Devin

      When I heard this movement, I was shocked and could not believe under this government anybody can protest, but always brave and bold people can find their path. I am proud of you and I support you.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Mitchell Cohen

      @Richard, even if landlords had to pay the arnona, they would just be smart and raise the rent to compensate. So, there would have to be a cap on what landlords could charge for rent as well, which I don’t see happening….Halvai!!!!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben Israel

      Mitchell Cohen-
      If you had an apartment to rent, would you take whatever the market will bear, or, out of the goodness of your heart charge a much lower rent because of your social concience?

      Reply to Comment
    7. Mitchell Cohen

      Ben Israel,

      To be honest, it would take a 1 in a million landlord to charge a much lower rent because of social conscience. Which is EXACTLY why a solution has to come about soon, otherwise MANY good, hardworking people will be on the streets. I don’t know what the solution is, nor do I think you do. If you or I did, I don’t think we would be posting here; we would be sitting with Netanyahu,Stanley Fisher, and Yuval Steinitz right about now. Neither capitalism, nor socialism has all the answers. However, I am glad to see hundreds of thousands out there venting what has been on many (including mine) minds for a long time. One thing is for sure, the status quo is unacceptable for the majority of the working class in this country (left, right, secular, religious, Jew, Arab, doesn’t matter)….

      Reply to Comment
    8. JoshK

      There is an obvious solution, which Netanyahu has been discussing: Allowing more building. There’s a shortage of housing and the only way to fix it is to sell some land and relax zoning to allow more housing to be created. Every highly land-regulated region has the same problem.

      Reply to Comment