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The tent protest: neither social justice, nor revolution

This article was jointly written by Dahlia Scheindlin and Joseph Dana, based on our shared experiences of the protests.

Social justice for Israelis only? Flag at the mass social protest rally in Tel Aviv, 30 July, 2011 (Photo: Dahlia Scheindlin)

The popular, mass protests here that began as a cry of rage against housing prices have evolved admirably into a public outcry against a slew of deep-rooted problems in Israeli social and economic life. Visiting the tent camps early every day, we’ve watched the protest grow from a motley band of wishful Woodstockers at the tip of Rothschild Boulevard two weeks ago, to a sort of mini-metropolis spreading close to the end of the road. There’s a first aid tent courtesy of Physicians for Human Rights, “Settle the Negev and the Galil” tents, ideological discussions, guitar and drum sing-alongs, Kabalat Shabbat, Friday night dinner, outdoor films about revolutionary themes, families with babies, and endlessly creative slogans. There are tents down near the central bus station, in a cat and mouse game with the municipality, which is trying to break up their camp.

Every grievance is coming out: there are slogans against the huge concentration of the country’s wealth into the hands of a very few, slogans raging against enormous economic gaps between rich and poor in Israel, lists of demands for just resource distribution and for various elements of a welfare state, salary hikes and lower costs, better education conditions and health care; against the national housing committees law, against the government, for Tahrir. At 10pm on Friday night, when a song group spontaneously burst into chants of “The people! Want! Social Justice!” one young woman sang out beatifically, “The people! Want! All Sorts of Things!”

Many are saying that this is something new, especially after Saturday night turned into Israel’s largest-ever social protest, as Maariv’s print headline proclaimed. A new language is being developed: silent hand gestures replace Israeli shouting matches. The hyper-fragmented groups in Israel are listening to each other, hammering out common ground to combat shared economic desperation.

Just don’t mention Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, or even the neutral local euphemism “medini” [lit: political/diplomatic] issues. Just leave out the institutional inequality most Palestinian citizens of Israel experience here – inequality of other groups is welcome.

I learned this the hard way. After a number of conversations with protesters, including some of its organizers (the protests are actually notably non-cohesive) – it became very clear that one of the top strategic goals is to avoid being branded as “left.” Joseph feels the environment around this topic is so toxic, he has tried to avoid even raising questions about why a ‘social justice revolution’ does not address the inequality of all those living under Israeli control. Even soft questions are met with hard responses from many who passionately demand that the protests be given time, space and compassion to grow inside Israeli society.

In this revolution, strategic thinking says that the current government can delegitimize the protest by making it look like lefties. The whole country will believe the government, because everybody hates the left. Indeed, the Prime Minister tried just this, branding them left-wing rabble rousers in the very first week. He failed – perhaps because of the revolutionary success in focusing on social issues only.

If the protests are labeled “left,” in revolutionary thinking, then ergo they are either – a. a conspiracy to overthrow the current government by opposition parties or groups (which somehow delegitimizes the policy goals), or b. a conspiracy by anti-Israel leftists to tie everything back to the occupation and force this or any government to cave in to the Palestinians. The revolution is too important to be branded.

Anyway, as a young woman in a long skirt and a sweet smile pleaded with me at 1am on Friday night, the Israeli-Palestinian cause is a different struggle. Why do I have to bring it to Rothschild?

Many Israelis, not just right-wingers, deride the left for a reductionist “occupation, occupation, occupation,” approach as if it is the source of all social ills. We believe there are other sources – but that other social ills can never truly be solved without a just resolution of the conflict, whatever it is. Joseph and I agree on this, although we may not agree on what that resolution is.

As a political strategist, I can understand that with such deep divisions, perhaps we need to take baby steps toward an unprecedented effort – driven by citizens, not well-meaning NGOs – to unite where we can agree, before touching on the most sensitive problems.

But the mantra of avoiding “medini” is wearing thin.

On Friday, some protesters hassled other Palestinian protesters, citizens suffering from housing crises. It came to scuffles. The diminutive Palestinian flags they hung were removed. Joseph recalls the struggles against apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow south. Can we imagine the ruling classes there demanding “social justice” without addressing their gravest internal injustices? What does the term “social justice” mean if so many who don’t have it are left out? Sure, let’s protest exorbitant housing costs – but why call it “social justice” if the very crux of social justice, namely equality, is not addressed? Can Israelis have a social justice revolution without speaking about the rights of people they control and occupy?

Later still on Friday night, one of the organizers told me that if I were to raise these kinds of issues, specifically ‘medini’ I would be thrown out of “his circle,” of people or tents. Why? “Because the only war is a class war,” he said, as if he had just recently skimmed the cliff-notes.

“But why shut people’s mouths who do want to talk about this?” I asked. “After all, if everyone is here to speak his/her mind, why is one topic – and such a huge, relevant one – not legitimate?” The answer was a fumbling, “this is a different struggle.  You can take that struggle anywhere else.” I believe they are the same struggle, I argued, or at least inextricably linked. It’s not a radical view – heaven help me, former Chief of Staff and now Kadima front-runner Shaul Mofaz made this very same point repeatedly in a Channel 2 television interview minutes before the rally on Saturday.

I tried to explain that they don’t have to agree, but to allow people to make any points they choose. “It it isn’t very democratic not to let people speak,” I retorted, getting frustrated.

“But democracy isn’t our struggle!” was the response.

And this was where I was left momentarily speechless. Here’s what I would have wanted to say:

1. Without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that determines final borders and full civil, human and national rights for all people between the Jordan and the sea, Israel’s budgetary and resource allocations will always be wildly distorted and harmful.  We will forever worship the military and its disciples, and privilege them with the best opportunities, perpetuating social and economic inequalities. We will never feel secure in our Jewish identity as long as the conflict is not settled – therefore, we will forever try to impose it on all, or exclude others however possible – including in housing policy. Once we do this against one group, we can do it against any group. Social and economic priorities will never dominate in national elections because security and defensiveness will reign supreme. The parties most committed to social justice and equality (not coincidentally, these parties are left-wing on conflict-related affairs) are unlikely to win power.

2. Without total freedom of all people in this ‘revolution’ to speak about all possible solutions to social and economic problems, there will be no true opening of minds and a great opportunity will be lost. The revolution will slowly begin to mirror the present, self-censorship will prevail, to be followed by the closing of minds and eventually the closing of democracy. The new language of civilized discourse will be wasted: It’s nice if we can cross our arms silently and respectfully to express disagreement over details of housing policy, on which most of the protestors largely agree. It’s useless if we can’t cross our arms silently and respectfully to talk about the most painful divisions – in that case, we can expect more of the same.

Lately there’s been critique of Israeli boasting its ultra-progressive attitudes towards GLBT rights, to deflect attention from illiberal, non-progressive attitudes towards Palestinians in the West Bank and inside Israel, or away from anti-democratic legislative trends. Some call it “pink-washing.”

We hope the housing and social protests don’t turn into “house-washing.” These protests might come and go and not a single word about the occupation will be officially mentioned. For a ‘social justice revolution’ this is tragic or, perhaps, it is just not a social justice revolution.

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    1. Rann B

      Thank you, and thank you and thank you, for expressing so coherently my doubts about this movement. In essence, Israelis have found another excuse to look inward and to continue becoming ever more enclosed in that horrifying euphemism ‘internal affairs’.

      The elephant in the tent will yet rear its looming head. These protests will eventually fail if the leadership doesn’t begin to address these issues, and soon.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ruth

      Your point that “Without a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict … Israel’s budgetary and resource allocations will always be wildly distorted and harmful” reflects some truth, but I think that there is a big chunk of economics behind the Occupation that an Israeli domestic socio-economic turnaround could massively impact. See Danny Gutwein: http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2006/gutwein160606.html

      You also forgot to mention the Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel participation in the rallies and the notable absence of the national religious sector. I don’t think the protest organizers are active enough in including Arab or Palestinian voices yet, but we have already seen a massive transition in two weeks from demanding housing in Tel Aviv to demanding a welfare state across Israel, so I wouldn’t say these protests are not about social justice because they are not perfect yet.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Guy Spigelman

      Hi Dahlia,
      This is a great post and I share many of your experiences with the tents and concerns.

      There is an annoying expression in Hebrew that says the enemy of the very good is the perfect.

      What you wanted to say to the people on Rothschild (and said above), and what I want to say as well, perhaps is just not going to cut through in Israel of 2011.

      Maybe we do need to talk in a euphemisms: “Changing priorities” – like Rabin in 1992. The social and ‘medini’ program that I subscribe to is all about the two state solution, rights for all Israel’s citizens, social-democratic economic policies. I could ask the person in the street: “Do you agree that we should give the West Bank to the Palestinians” and I would get a negative answer much of the time. Where-as if I asked: “Do we need to change priorities” – most would say “yes”. Behind both questions is the same policy. Many people in Israel do not want to think they are ‘giving’ anything to the ‘enemy’ – so framing it in a way that is more positive about the benefits for our internal citizenry may be more effective.

      Another point:
      When people are feeling ‘screwed over’ (and most Israelis feel this) it is hard to find room to feel generous for the ‘other’ – whether that be Palestinians in the West Bank, Palestinians in Israel or other groups.

      ‘Tzedek chevrati’ or ‘Social justice’ is a slogan for most of the protesters who are thinking about themselves and their own situations, rather true, broader meaning. While this is a shame – it is a step in the right direction. For once this language is accepted, then perhaps we can progress the discourse to what a broader, fuller definition of ‘Tzedek Chevrati’.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Zohar

      There are several levels to the argument. One is ideological: here I totally support the writers’ arguments. The other is practical/tactical: it is wise to raise the occupation issue at the present moment? Here I side with the protest leaders. I believe (admittedly, with no evidence, just unfounded optimism) that given time (not years, months) and patience, many of the protesters will link the issues, perhaps in new ways.
      There is an interesting article in Haaretz today, http://www.haaretz.co.il/hasite/spages/1236692.html
      that suggests how such conversion may begin, even among some of the settlers themselves.

      Reply to Comment
    5. jerrygates777

      I feel you pain Dahlia, love the name by the way.

      We are perhaps cousins in an extended family setting, you live in the Israeli part of the family I in the United States part of the family and as out two nations have such a special relationship, our relations are inexorably tied by our nations special interests.

      I see that when Jewish Israeli organise a protest they like to limit the protestors subject matter to perhaps mostly Jewish centric issues and the occupation of Palestine by the IDF isnt on their particular docket nor perhaps will it ever be due to affinities with buiolding Israel as large and dominating as possible before any Palestinians gain traction for statehood, which at this time would be a state of separated Hamlets mauled by the IDF;s contant incursions and check points and of course home demolitions, evacuations of Camps in the Negev and bombing campaigns over Gaza. If social justice is on the minds of Israelis and they also seek to omit their nations horrific injustices to Palestine and to be frank to the United States people for limiting the topics of our protests as well.

      Jews are good organisers is what this means, have great media skills, are represented in many many ways in the USA and rule the nations roosts as was seen by Netenyahus rousing reception in congress where our president is not as popular as yours because of influences peddlers.

      So what you Dahlia see in the streets of Tel Aviv where subject matters are limited by organisers of protests, we see as well here in the USA where the United for Peace and Justice protest organisers ranted to the rafters about war making under Bush;s regime but went stine cold dead after gaining their preferred seat of power and manipulating it to the hilt, Obama was their prize, they have him now and they could care less about war, social inequity of American poor or enlivening the debate about financial reform past there bland assertions that reform is needed, but never comes in any substantive way because Jews feelings might get hurt or their pocketbooks might get lighter or even their sense of Jewishness might be offended by a non Jewish element of a protest that sought the hearing of Palestinian grievances against their Israeli zionist mantras now heavily ingrained in the inner bowels of the US governance and social outlook of the elites.

      I persinally led a group of Palestinians from Temple Univeristy and around the Philly area into a UFPJ organized protest in Philly and was utterly disgusted by the remarks of Jewish protesters against the war on terror which covers the IDF’s occupation of Palestine and allows Israel the comfort zone to harass, imprison and destroy the lives of Palestinians who resist such social injustice against them by Jews in Israel and the USA.

      I read Israeli news, study social paradigms and have worked extensivly with Jewish activists for years on the Palestinians issues and know that many Jews are quite tired of the bluster of the right winged countenance of Jewish sentiments inside Israel and some even blame the left for driving Israel to the right which is an audacious blame game for people who occupy others lands and constanly plot to defame Steal land from and marginalization of the human rights of non Jews by their infamously insidious clannishness and cliques of exclusion.

      I have seen hours upon hours of film of setlers abusing Palestinians with the worst kind of epithets and utterly evil selfishness born out of mypoic introspection as victims of a world which they have been taught hates Jews which to me is as insidious a brainwashing sceme for geopolitical goals as ever disgraced any people , especially Jews.

      How can it be good for a people stigatised so rapaciously in the past to teach it’s children that the world hates them and seeks to end their dream of Israel a Jewish Kibbutz of self determined works on their own for their own that marginalizes Arab Palestinians in the same exact way that people once marginalized Jews is a rotten fruit being eaten by a good people which is a very sad day for Israel and certainly no cause for celebration.

      I sympathise with people underpayed and over billed by a nationalist system of judgement of whom is worthy to live in certain neighborhoods and whom isnt based on their income, but morover it is a ridiculous assault on reason to stump for rights for poor or disenfranchised Jews while doing a discriminatory disservice to Palestinians in worse, exponentially worse straights caused by Jewish exceptional ism. not a divide between rich and poor but a divide between recognized and unrecognized poverty and the reasons for such disparity in Israel’s culture.

      Israel as a Jews only nation is conceptually morose and functionally serves only Jews with right wing affinities primarily and taunts jibes and disenfranchises Jews called self haters and Arabs called much worse, which to me is disgusting for Jews to undertake such a plan to take over land in Palestine while threatening near neighbors that if they dont recognise Israel as a Jews only nation Israel will lie, steal cheat and defame Palestine until is is gone, bured under a litany of hidden horrors while Israelis bicker about their housing opportunity in a land where only right wing Jews are accepted as Israelis by the populous and prime minister as regards their world view concerning zionism and what it means in truth, which is to take from Arabs and say God said it was OK to steal land at gunpoint from people Jews refer to as dogs.

      It cant be both ways Dahlia, Israel is destined for apartheid wheter anyone admits this or not and even if some semblance of courtesy is ever extended to the people who fight for Palestinian rights in Palestine by Israel intelligence agencies the IDF or it’s belicose US embassy and AIPAC lobby, the Zionist Organizations of America and the bought off US reps in congress and the senate, it will have come too little too late as was their plan, to always make damned sure that when justice comes ever so thinly veiled under a peace talks ruse and apartheid bent, Palestine will have been rendered into little chunks of land which can then be chipped away by more settlements until the Jews have it their way at the end of their gun barrels aimed at disarmed Arabs under duress now for sixty years, tears for high rent in Tel aviv? I have better places for my tears.

      Reply to Comment
    6. yshai

      i am very sorry, but i think this misses the point completely. i don’t live in Israel currently, but i do follow things qite closely, and i am being informed by friends which play a central role in the protest:
      1. the writer should have talked maybe to other people in the protest. there are no real “organizers” – such camps were raised in all major cities in Israel, and each has its own organizers. alongside there are many other movements which also have their own “organizers”. while the israeli media – for plausible reasons – refers to the camp in central Tel-Aviv (which indeed was the first one), it is not the only one, and the movement has no such structure, that gives it a more central role than others.
      2. in face of the attempts of the fascists wings to illegitimate the struggle as being organized by those who they were very successful so far in terrorizing and bringing out of the consensus as “collaborators with the enemy” and traitors, as foreign agents etc., it is quite understandable – and politically correct – when those protesters at this point highlight issues that go beyond those political issues that made it possible for the fascists to do what they did so far. it doesn’t men that those issues are not discussed, and quite honestly, if the writer would have also watched the israeli media in the last weeks, she would have noticed, that the understanding, that the occupation comes on the costs of social security in Israel itself.
      3. the talks about ignoring inequality inside israel is simply false – it appears so far ion all official manifestos published by the protesters so far. jews and arabs sit together in all camps in the mixed cities, israeli-palestinian representatives were invited to talk in the official rallies last Saturday in Haifa, Jerusalem and Beer-Sheva – where, btw., an official tent dedicated to the long covered struggle of the beduin of El-Arakib was raised and accepted qwith open hands.
      4. the most important point: the most successful slogans of the “far-left” ever was “money to the slams – not to the settlements” (“Kesef la’shchunot, lo la’hitnahluyot”” – which didn’t speak in a very abstract way about ending the occupation – which is usually very far from the sight of most israelis in their daily life. it was successful, because it was an educating slogan. the protest, whether it says this clearly or not, has the same consequences. ignoring it is the consequence of – sorry – a petite-bourgeois thinking.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben Israel

      Guy Spigelman-
      It seems to me that you are underestimating the intelligence of the average Israel. If an Israeli opposes creating a Palestinian state, its because he or she thinks that for various reasons it is a bad idea. You seem to say that by calling it “changing priorities”, the only thing that matters is how you package it, but you completely ignore the reasoning behind this Israelis position.
      The Israeli “Establishment”, both Left and Right, has always had basic contempt for the common person’s intelligence. That’s why they came up with what they call “creative solutions” which usually means doing one thing that people won’t like but calling it the opposite in order to make it palatable. One example is calling the destruction of Jewish communities and expulsion of their population hitnatkut-“disengagement” Another example is the view that Israeli Leftists are “rational, intelligent” people, whereas the Rightists are “uneducated people who react emotionally”. This was the thinking behind Sharon’s creation of the KADIMAH party. The Left says “we’ll take a military hero the Right adores, convince him to support Leftist positions and then have him destroy the Likud and form a Leftist party. All the old Likud voters are so enchanted with him they will support his new party and Leftist views because they blindly support war heroes”. Only problem was that it didn’t happen. KADIMAH ended up taking votes from Labor and MERETZ and the Likud recovered because its voters wanted what its platform promised, not some pretty face.

      Reply to Comment
    8. JESSICA

      I have also been disappointed in the protest’s use of the term “social justice” as it seems to pertain mostly to the wallet and to the Israeli Jewish working class – than to true equality. However, of course I am impressed at the volume of people banning together from different groups in order to demonstrate that the worker is not getting his fair share and is bearing the burden for the country. I would want this demonstration to include the voices from the deeper and more controversial roots – settlements, unequal rights, human rights violations, Israeli-Palestinian relations, etc. But, perhaps it is “too much” – too polarizing for the demonstration and its momentum at this point. While many of us view the protest as “water-downed,” I think there is always the danger that unfortunately, too many people also see the protests as hanging too far left.

      Here’s an article from Haaretz today http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/israeli-settlers-largely-back-housing-protests-but-wary-of-left-wing-slant-1.376258 – talking about the “fear” from Israeli settlers that the protests will start to slant too far left and start including the bigger issues soon.

      Reply to Comment
    9. @Ruth, I didn’t forget the Arab/Palestinians demonstrating, but it was a short mention in a long piece. Look around mid-way through the article where I mention the scuffles between jewish protesters and Arabs, who told me they had been accused of ‘politicizing’. I understand the dilemmas, but at least they’re letting the issues be aired.

      @Guy, much sense in what you write. you might know that I too advocate change in terminology to reflect and create new thinking: http://972mag.com/a-new-language-for-israeli-reality-is-hammered-out-at-j-street/ and i feel you may be right about various ways to do that here.

      @Ben Israel – please try harder to stay on topic or your comments will be edited in the future. thanks.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Rann B

      I think you’re all missing the point: the fundamental racism of Israeli Zionist society, be it on the right or the left, prevents any ‘social’ movement from acknowledging that anyone has any rights except themselves. Protest organizers acknowledge that fact by screaming at anyone who dares to mention the Occupation.

      As for representation: The Palestinian participation in the protests is minuscule, despite the attempts of organizers to present it as otherwise. Take, for example, the protest in Haifa on Saturday. Estimates varied between 10,000 and 15,000 people. Haifa is 13% Palestinian. Therefore, for there to be proportionate representation, we should have seen 1,300-2,000 Palestinians there. If there were 200, I’d eat my sandals. This is a Jewish, largely Ashkenazi and almost wholly Zionist movement.

      Having said that, perhaps it will open a space for radicalization of a few. Maybe. I’m not even sure about that.

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    11. Shooky


      Reply to Comment
    12. Rann B that is far too broad a generalization and to paraphrase shooky – it’s “shallow.” would you approve of someone saying that all palestinian society is fundamentally racist? Something tells me you wouldn’t. I believe these organizers are capable of addressing rights other than their own – since “they” as we all realize, are quite diverse in any case. Our point is that they are strategically avoiding doing so, and I believe that if that strategy becomes permanent, it is wrong. Joseph might have a different response to your comment.

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    13. I’m not an Israeli.

      There is obviously a grave disconnect between the political view and the social. (I use the terms similarly to the tent city demonstrations.)

      Political views are stated as “which side are you on”, with each question dividing those that support a contention, in half.

      ‘Do you believe that the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is an “oppression” or a “conflict”‘

      ‘Do you believe that Israelis desire to take over Arab land, or do you believe that Arabs desire to take over Israeli/Jewish land?’

      ‘Do you believe that ashkenazi Jews are the real Jews or that sephardi Jews are the real Jews?’

      ‘Do you believe that “the struggle” is to realize one democratic state, or to realize one bi-state federation, or to realize two states?”

      Dividing questions.

      The BDS movement seeks to avoid dividing questions by not answering ‘we are advocating for two states vs one state’, or by not clarifying what they mean by ‘Arab lands’ in their call.

      If people can collaborate on a single question, not the gamut of dividing politically correct (whoever initiates the insistence), then they will experience working together, mutual respect, mutual acceptance.

      The critical reason for Israeli historical rejection of Palestinian demands from what I gather, is that they are stated as attacks, structurally stated as attacks (‘give up your sovereignty’) and personal attacks, almost every one.

      Demanding that Israelis and sympathizers enter an area of hostility and pain, but asked to do that with no described non-pain outcome.

      This is an opportunity to establish “new priorities”.

      No attacking.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Deïr Yassin

      When Guy Spiegelman writes “Do you agree we should give the West Bank to the Palestinians” I of course don’t have the right to answer that is never was yours in the first place, that would be OFF topic, and answering to the general patronizing and racialist discourse of right-wingers on this blog is OFF topic too.
      So I got it: this blog is internal Israeli affairs: After all how the colonizers organize the stolen land of ’48 between themselves is none of our business.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Rann B

      Dahlia Scheindlin: No, I wouldn’t say Palestinian society is fundamentally racist, because Palestinians don’t have a state that is racially based. I don’t think it’s a very complex case to be made.

      I don’t see the organizers as diverse. How many Palestinian protest organizers have you seen on TV? How many supported singing the Tikva at the end of the rally in Jerusalem on Saturday? I’m sure you noticed the huge numbers of Palestinians in Sakhnin marching in solidarity with the protesters in Tel Aviv, not to speak of the enormous solidarity demonstrations in Jenin and Nablus.

      I completely understand the strategy, aimed at keeping the protests popular throughout Jewish, Zionist Israeli society, but I have zero doubts about that being a long term strategy. The absolute best we can hope for is that some tiny percentage of the protesters will begin making the connection: the money isn’t going to social services in Israel in large part because it’s being poured into the West Bank, be it to ‘security’ or to settlements.

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    16. Moshe

      The “occupation” is a distinctly left agenda and while attempts to link demands for the cause of social justice could be linked to another injustice you cant argue an argument with an argument. Ergo the tentifada and its refusal to be labeled left or to have its cause associated with other far more polarizing causes.

      Middle Israel has learned to “live with” or mostly ignore the “occupation” not because they don’t care, but because life goes on. Be that as it may the high cost of living did not appear overnight and people got used to higher prices until it reached a breaking point and that same middle Israel refuses to accept it anymore.
      Perhaps as the writer wishes those people who came to accept the situation and reached the breaking point will make the connection between injustices and demand change on all fronts.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Rann B, “diverse” doesn’t mean only Israeli or Jewish and Palestinian or Arab. There are many diverse groups – economic, ethnic, religious, geographical, ideological in Israeli society who are deeply divided, and so yes, the protesters are capable of caring about *certain* others. Also please correct yourself: we are not watching these protests on TV as some seem to think, we are there all the time (although i am unable to be in every city, so of course this is augmented by tracking the media). As far as racism, i won’t get too off topic but there are obviously elements on both sides that could be based on racism, but in both cases there are alternative explanations. i.e., judaism is not a race, but a religion (which i why i reject rabbinic attempts to racialize it). and Pal’s repeated demands to ensure that all settlers leave their territories can be seen as racist too, except that they would argue it’s about re-possession of their land. further, calling a society racist implies that all individuals within it are too, which is really not my experience living here – on either side.

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    18. Amir-Ras

      These protests are nothing but the Israeli upper middle class asking for a larger slice of the pie.

      After the main rally ended my and some mates were walking back towards ibn gvirol on shaul hamelech street and I was in a whimsical mood so I started singing “All we are saying is give peace a chance”, unsurprisingly no one other than my friends joined in.

      “Peace” is a dirty word as far as these protests go, all ya leftists should keep your hopes down.

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    19. Moshe

      RANN B. Your blind hatred stinks of racisiim. In the Arab territory’s An Arab that works for jews, buys at Jewish stores or sells or rents land to Jews can be put to death. A Jew cannot get citizenship or hold office in the PA and Jews that accidentally enter Arab areas face the very real risk of being lynched and killed, but that’s not racism since there is no Palestine yet! In Israel an Arab can buy land, buy or work where he pleases, be elected to the Knesset or be a judge on the supreme court. No Arab worries about getting lynched on a trip to the Malcha mall in Jerusalem. Yet we are the racists? The protesters care about themselves and their wallets, as anyone, even Arabs do, and that’s not racism.

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    20. Ben Israel

      Moshe is right-The average Israeli realizes what I am saying all the time…that there is no solution to the Arab/Israeli conflict, the Palestinian will never agree to a compromise peace with Israel and so it is not within Israel’s power to solve the problem. These Israelis are merely being realistic. Had the Palestinans not resorted to violence in the wake of the Oslo Agreements, most Israelis would have accepted giving them a state, but the Palestinians put paid to that idea.

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    21. Deïr Yassin

      The State of Israel already covers 78% of Mandatory Palestine. The State of Israel has not respected the resolution 194 concerning the right of return of the Palestinian refugees though Abba Eban promised so in front of the UN on May 5th 1949 when Israel was admitted to the UN (resolution 273). The settlers are living in the West Bank in total violation of international law, and claiming that they should all get back on the other side of the Green Line, and even considering this could be ‘racist’ is simply grotesque.
      The Palestinians should be happy with 22% of their historical homeland and also accept people coming from Brooklyn and Kiev. Let’s talk about that when my family has been allowed to go back to Akka, which IS according to international law.

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    22. Rann B

      Dahlia Scheindlin: I am currently here too, and have been to a few of the protest sites, as well as having been at the protest in Haifa on Saturday, hence my observation regarding Arab participation in Haifa.

      The vast majority of people are watching the demonstrations on television, both here and around the world, and the choices made (either by organizers or by Arab participants) not to have a single Arab spokesperson appear on TV is extremely telling.

      You’re right: the leadership is diverse in the senses you point out. It seems to be that the one thing that unifies them is the decision to not mention the elephant in the room.

      One comment on racism: go read (as I’m sure you have) the polls from the Israeli Institute for Democracy regarding Israeli Jewish attitudes toward Arabs, and then come back and tell me this society isn’t racist.

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    23. Klil

      The settlements are ultimately violent ethnic gentrification, so no matter what your “political” affiliation, of course they are relevant to this issue, and the fact that people dismiss it is, in fact, the more “political” (that is, sectarian) stance.

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    24. tenchlion

      I am an American, currently in Israel for several months.
      There are parallels between the situation here now, with economic woes, and what’s going on in America. Not perfect, equal parallels, but there are parallels.
      I was speaking to an Israeli (Tel Avivi) friend after I attended the protest to take photos. This is not my protest (I’m renting a short-term apartment for an absurd price, and in an indirect way, contributing to the problems which are being protested! Ouch.) but I was interested to see it, of course. My friend was working (how apropos to this cause!) that night and could not attend, but he also said something about feeling that there was not enough “focus” in the demonstrations for him to attend even if he had been available, that “too many” causes were taking over, and that there didn’t seem to be a clear message. He was overwhelmed by what to choose to “fight for.”

      I think that the tent protest, at least to me as an outsider, seems absolutely like a revolution. Americans never take to city streets like this to protest the “parallel” problems I discussed above. Of course there are multiple injustices in every society (and that’s putting it lightly), but the issue of housing costs has, at least to people with a basic grasp of economic policy, a tangible, imaginable outcome. “We could mobilize, and demand, and then prices would go down.” It seems like an A+B=outcome situation. The problem with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that *nobody* (at least nobody sane) can come up with a tangible, imaginable solution to that. There are too many variables, (the presence of most of which are really heart-rending), and of course it’s easier for people not to think too hard about it.

      With that said, everything has to begin somewhere. If there is a positive result to this protest, people may take heart and begin to conceptualize how to attack more complex issues. I think a lot of political theory hinges on what “should” happen versus what “will” or “can” happen, and leaves out simple psychology of human beings, especially those under stress or threat. People are inherently self-centered (that’s not a value judgement, it’s empirical fact) and obviously are more motivated to work towards something which immediately benefits them in the short-term. It becomes easier to focus on “other peoples’ problems” once one’s own are under control.

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    25. Amir-Ras

      After reading this article again I think it’s actually more important to go there and protest the messages We want to protest. If the people will reject us and deny our place in the struggle we will finally know for sure where the people of Israel stand. No more excuses!

      If your desire for Social Justice only concerns your own pocket and your own tribe then you are not better than the ‘corrupt politicians’ you’re protesting against, they’re also concerned only with their own pockets and their own tribesmen.

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    26. herschel Landes

      I went to the demonstrations to listen and observe, not to criticise. Revolutions never really go according to plan..but this upheaval will mark a change in the Israeli poltic.

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    27. Dr.Bill

      One thing I find very interesting is that there is virtually NO coverage of this in any of the Mainstream Media of the United States. There has been no coverage on any of the three major networks, NBC, ABC, or CBS or on CNN. I checked out the BBC which does much more in the way of world news than any of the American stations. Also Nothing. I checked out National Public Radio (NPR) which often does stories not covered by the MSM, – NOTHING. I checked out major Internet News Portals such as Huffington Post – Nothing.

      I have no explanation for why this is. I would think that a protest in a country of about 8 million people in which 150,000 are taking part would at least be newsworthy, especially in the US where there is a 5 million Jewish population.
      But apparently none of the heads of the networks (a few of whom happen to be Jews themselves) consider this protest newsworthy.

      Perhaps they consider these protests to be merely an internal affair in which the protesters are perceived as simply being out for a bigger peace of the pie.
      The current situation in Syria is receiving attention especially because of the violence and deaths involved.
      However it seems that the “Arab Spring” protests were covered because they were perceived as a total regime change and total ideological transformation.
      In Israel it seems to be more about Bibi and co. behaving the way they always have.
      So because those in charge of the media know that Americans don’t really care much about what is going on in the rest of the world, unless it impacts them directly, they have chosen that these protests do not exist.
      But don’t feel bad, they stopped covering the Neo-Nazi terrorist who is apparently a rabid Zionist days ago. Libya is apparently at peace with itself, and the Nuclear Plants in Japan must be back in full operation. Yeah, that’s it.

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    28. Piotr Berman

      It seems that ideology of the protest closely follows the line of Labor Party, namely “social issues” and indifference to the issues of war, peace, and occupation. After all, this captures the preoccupation of the major part of the public.

      But the hope is that it will dawn on these people that “guns and butter” is not a realistic paradigm anymore.

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    29. Adrian

      Well, I don’t find this surprising to be honest. I mean, after both the Lebanon and Gaza withdrawals Israel had to fight wars, sending the message that just leaving is not enough – and that doing so is in fact risky. Furthermore, negotiations with the Palestinians already failed in 2000 and 2001, leading to the Second Intifada – something I believe many Israelis have not overcome – and making Ehud Barak himself say that there was no peace partner, which was tantamount to an admission of defeat by the Israeli Left, and which also showed that not only negotiations aren’t capable of bringing peace by themselves but also that a failure to sign a deal can perfectly lead to violence (just like unilateral withdrawals did).

      Moreover, the answer by a substantial number of prominent Israeli leftists to this reality was to advance moral arguments against the occupation (usually giving a higher priority to the Palestinians’ concerns), without really addressing the concerns of the rest of the country – and that has been the answer since then.

      I’m closer ideologically to the Israeli Zionist Left more than anything and I don’t like the reality of the occupation, but I think that Israel’s Left political discourse should adapt to these realities and, well, should actually try to answer the public’s concerns.

      Unlike some posters, I doubt Israelis are incapable of linking the conflict (which goes beyond the occupation itself) and the social issues currently prevailing in their cuntry, and given past experience I’m also not completely sure that ending the occupation – either by signing a deal or unilaterally – would bring peace as there is no guarantee extremists would not be able of overrunning the moderates as it in fact happened in Gaza. The last decade clearly showed that there are risks associated with negotiations, and much more importantly, with ending the military occupation of the West Bank.

      And quite frankly, I also don’t see any concrete answer by Israel’s Left – Zionist or otherwise – to these legitimate concerns and I even have the feeling that a substantial portion of it doesn’t even care about providing an answer, which I find deeply depressing. As long as the Left doesn’t provide any answer to these concerns, there will be many Israelis left to think that – as Lieberman himself has explicitly said – there is no way of ending the conflict, that Israel can at best manage it.

      And even worse, many will be left to think that the Right is better positioned to manage the conflict even if Israel is heading to a diplomatic disaster on September under Netanyahu, even if there are at least some settlers who inflame tensions in the West Bank, even if there are some settlements that pretty much everyone knows Israel will have to withdraw from under any deal and that these keep getting more populated thus making the future withdrawal more costly, even as Israel gets isolated in the international arena (more than usual at least) – and to a great deal, this is because the Left is incapable or unwilling to address these concerns.

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    30. “Many are saying that this is something new, especially after Saturday night turned into Israel’s largest-ever social protest, as Maariv’s print headline proclaimed. A new language is being developed: silent hand gestures replace Israeli shouting matches. The hyper-fragmented groups in Israel are listening to each other, hammering out common ground to combat shared economic desperation.”
      Give them time. Do not require them to be like you. This quote of yours shows tremendous potential to break the internal schisms and creating something new. Israel must decide what it wants to be. You are right that what one is depends on how one treats others; but that will come, I think and hope. Indeed, the (apparently) tremendous outlay of funds to settlers, plus the costs of occupation protection imply that the movement, if it continues, will naturally look at the issues you raise. But let them come to it. Let them be this new, different, thing for awhile. It’s scarry to become different. Hear what they become, I say.

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    31. It might not be a social revolution yet. but it goes a serious step in this direction. Your article points to some of the weaknesses of the new social movement in Israel, but loses sight of the importance of the unprecedented social upheaval against the Israeli ruling class priorities.

      For 25 years the whole Israeli political system – labor, likud, kadima, shas, shinoi etc. agreed to sell the country to the new group of Tycoons (called in Russia – Oligarchs). The general feeling in the Israeli street since several years now is that of complete distrust to the political and military leaders – they are all seen as corrupt and liars.

      Think about it – what is important to the Israeli public – to keep Hebron and the settlements in “our hands” or to get proper housing and education – now you got the answer clear. Now it is not a clear progressive message that will create a majority for withdrawl to the 67 borders in the next elections but it is a blow to the agenda of the right wing that creates the potential of a dialogue with the new middle east that starts to galvanize in Tahrir square and among the young people of the area. Israelis are copying the Egyptians – and they admit it. This in itself is a revolutionary phenomenon.

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    32. Adam Keller

      Yesterday there were settlers quoted in Ha’aretz saying they suspect that “the purpose of the Left in starting the housing protest is to weaken Netanyahu towards September and let him face crippled the Palestinian move in the UN”. I don’t think that this is the organizers’ conscious purpose, but I do think they might be achieving thisvery purpose even without intending it – and if so, they might be helping the Palestinians much more they would be by talking very explicitly about the occupation.

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    33. Rann B

      @Adam Keller: shhhh, don’t tell the head of the Yesha council (who showed up at the protest today) all that.

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    34. weinstein henry

      So, because they avoided to “mention Israel’s Occupation of the West Bank”, you consider protesters are not fighting for real change.
      Well, maybe they are more politically mature than you think…
      I mean, if the Housing protests inside Israel didn’t question the money spent outside to build settlements, then the protesters are dumb and I am stupid to think it was a smart way to shake the system.

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    35. Shoded Yam

      Now Israelis can stop wondering why the protests are not getting the media coverage in the international press that they believe it deserves. Much like Ms. Scheindlin, anyone who groks these sorts of things for a living, cannot possibly take this “revolution” seriously, 150,000 cognitive dissonance sufferers notwithstanding.

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    36. lidia

      Deïr Yassin, you are right. The “protests” are Zionist affair – the junior colonizers are demanding their part of Zionist loot (Palestinian land). The cite is also about “what is good for Jews” (Zionist Jews, that is)

      The would NEVER admit that without the wholesale robbery of Palestine their dear Israel would be unlivable, it could be sustained ONLY as a settler colony.

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    37. Amir-Ras

      Dear Lidia,
      What do you mean by “without the wholesale robbery of Palestine their dear Israel would be unlivable, it could be sustained ONLY as a settler colony”?
      Dear Israel exists as Israel only because of the Nakba, however, do you also imply that without the Nakba the Jewish immigrants\trespassers wouldn’t be allowed to live in Palestine?

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    38. Lidia

      A-R, I meant that the Zionist project, like any other settler colonialism, is possible only as long as the robbery of natives is going on. The “protesters” want more Palestinian land to build on, pure and simple.

      Without the Nakba the Jewish COLONIZERS/setters would not be allowed to settle here.

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    39. Amir-Ras

      The Nakba was in 1948, by then there were 800,000 Jews (mostly refugees\COLONIZERS from Europe) in mandatory Palestine, are you saying they would not have been ‘allowed to stay’ if they hadn’t commenced the Nakba? wow, that’s some hardcore Zionist propaganda. I don’t think even Ben-Gurion actually bought into that narrative.
      To be honest the protesters just want to better divide the Palestinian land that was already stolen, most of them don’t really value the real estate in the west bank too highly.

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    40. Deïr Yassin

      I just spent some time reading through ‘LeMonde’s on-line articles on the demonstrations in Israel, and I was stuck by the comments: most – only open to subscribers – noticed the egoistic nature of these demonstrations, and the fact that people appararently didn’t care enough about what had gone on only a few kilometers away from them for the last decades to walk the streets.
      I can only agree, and here is my ultimate confession: I have no empathy for these demonstrators. I’ve really tried to feel some sympathy, and follow the movement, but I just don’t care. In fact, when I saw the first tents in the streets of Tel-Aviv (from a distance), I thought about this:

      I wish a ‘Ramadhan karîm’ to all Muslims 🙂

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    41. Shoded Yam

      “But democracy isn’t our struggle!”
      Than this is not actually about “revolutions” or “social justice”. You’re just throwing a temper tantrum; screaming; “they (who shall remain nameless) got theirs, and I want mine”

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    42. lidia

      A_R, I suppose you do not get what I meant. Long BEFORE Nakba there was colonization of Palestine. It was NOT about “refugees from Europe”, it was about Zionism sending by ANY means Jews to colonize Palestine. The goal of Zionism back then and now is the same – “Jewish state” in Palestine (see Arian state to understand). Such state needs “Jewish majority” (better still – pure Jewish population). It logically means impossibility of Israel without Nakba. More than that, the Nakba never stopped. Just now Zionism is ethnic cleansing Palestinians, and “protests” are just the another side of nth demolition of Palestinian village in Negev.

      Of course, I agree with “the protesters just want to better divide the Palestinian land that was already stolen”, the difference between us that you seem to think that the land that “was already stolen” somehow does not matter. ALL stolen land belongs to Palestinians and will be liberated.

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    43. lidia

      Given that 1) Western Christians expelled BOTH Muslims and Jews, while Zionists pretend that only Jews are eternal victims
      2) Expelled Jews went to Muslim world and lived there without expulsion till Zionism
      3) Zionist Jews are COLONIZERS of Palestine, just like the French in Algeria or the Brits in Kenia, so they should be treated as such
      4) Zionist Jews ethnic cleansed the majority of the natives, so it takes a lot of gall from unsavory Zionist WH to say ANYTHING about expulsion

      By the way, the name weinstein henry sound SO middle-easternish 🙂 Sure he has all right to colonize Palestine…

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    44. Adrian

      So all in all Jews should be ethnically cleansed from Israel?

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    45. lidia

      Adrian, were all Brits ethnically cleansed from Kenia (India, Palestine)?

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    46. Adrian

      The French were ethnically cleansed from Argelia, which is why I am curious. So my take is that your answer is “no, they shouldn’t”? What about Zionists, should they be forced out?

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    47. lidia

      If Adrian calls the liberation of Algeria from colonial settlers “ethnic cleansing” I suppose he is OK with colonialism. He could enjoy it till it last – not for long now.

      FRENCH CANNOT be ethnic cleansed from ALGERIA, or one should argue that Algeria is France.

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    48. Bosko

      @Adrian – According to the Lidias of this world, following the Arab invasion of Palestine in the 7th century, the land somehow, by magic, turned into sacred Arab Muslim soil forever and even Jews who already lived there since before the Arab invasions, were just tolerated guests. Any Jews who immigrated later and bought lands were usurpers and colonizers. No two state solutions for the Lidias of this world …

      Dahlia, once again your blog has gone off topic thanks to the anti Zionist name callers. I genuinely don’t like doing this but so long as they insist on voicing their repetitive, boringly compulsive one sided, propaganda some of us will always butt in and try and balance the scales.

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    49. lidia

      According to Bible following the Jews(?) invasion of Khanaan in the (?) century, the land somehow, by magic, turned into sacred Jewish soil forever and non-Jews who already lived there since before the Jewish invasions, were ordered to be slaughtered.

      Then the majority of Jews in Palestine turned Christians and then Muslim.

      During the crusade Westerners mass-murdered Jews while Arabs saved Jewish lives.

      Then Jews from NY came and claimed the land of Palestine as its own.

      One living in a paper home should not throw flame into others’

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