Zeev Sternhell writes:
In these times of hope and anticipation, it is difficult not to wonder what form the protest might have taken, and what results it might already have achieved, if there had been a large and authentic social-democratic party here with a labor union worthy of the name, at its side. Indeed a spontaneous uprising that does not find political expression very soon, and does not threaten those who are in power, will of necessity have very limited achievements.
Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands that when there is no opposition with an ideology of structural social change, and which is capable of garnering electoral support for a comprehensive national economic program, the danger facing him and his party is negligible. The truth is that the protesters themselves have already presented him with a way out. His representatives will anoint the protest leaders with pure oil, will set up teams and present ideas, will throw them a few bones and then will move to the area where there is no greater expert than Netanyahu: drawing out time and making promises that no one intends to keep.
The real problem, however, is not the government but rather the political elite. Except for a small number of politicians on the center-left, like Knesset member Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ), most of the political leadership is partner to the blind belief in the unique qualities of a free market. There were indeed people outside the political arena who for decades contended that a free market creates no less poverty and misery than wealth and welfare; there were those who believed that poverty is not some kind of natural phenomenon but rather something created by man. But all of them were considered “populist.” There were people who saw in the state a tool for correcting distortions and supplying cheap and good-quality services to the entire population, but they were denounced as wanting to return to the 1950s.
Therefore the young demonstrators would do well to remember May 1968 in Europe. Beyond the obvious differences, there is a common denominator: a protest that does not find immediate political expression is destined to disintegrate.
Uri Avnery writes:
It all started in a remote little town in Tunisia, when an unlicensed market vendor was arrested by a policewoman. It seems that in the ensuing altercation, the woman struck the man in the face, a terrible humiliation for a Tunisian man. He set himself on fire. What followed is history: the revolution in Tunisia, regime change in Egypt, uprisings all over the Middle East.
The Israeli government saw all this with growing concern – but they didn’t imagine that there might be an effect in Israel itself. Israeli society, with its ingrained contempt for Arabs, could hardly be expected to follow suit.
But follow suit it did. People in the street spoke with growing admiration of the Arab revolt. It showed that people acting together could dare to confront leaders far more fearsome than our bumbling Binyamin Netanyahu.
Some of the most popular posters on the tents were “Rothschild corner Tahrir” and, in a Hebrew rhyme, “Tahrir – Not only in Cahir” – Cahir being the Hebrew version of al-Cahira, the Arabic name for Cairo. And also: “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu”.
In Tahrir Square, the central slogan was “The People Want to Overthrow the Regime”. In conscious emulation, the central slogan of the tent cities is “The People Want Social Justice”.
Who are these people? What exactly do they want?
It started with a demand for “Affordable Housing”. Rents in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere are extremely high, after years of Government neglect. But the protest soon engulfed other subjects: the high price of foodstuffs and gasoline, the low wages . The ridiculously low salaries of physicians and teachers, the deterioration of the education and health services. There is a general feeling that 18 tycoons control everything, including the politicians. (Politicians who dared to show up in the tent cities were chased away.) They could have quoted an American saying: “Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”
A selection of the slogans gives an impression: We want a welfare state! Fighting for the home! Justice, not charity! If the government is against the people, the people are against the government! Bibi, this is not the US Congress, you will not buy us with empty words! If you don’t join our war, we shall not fight your wars! Give us our state back! Three partners with three salaries cannot pay for three rooms! The answer to privatization: revolution! We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, we are slaves to Bibi in Israel! I have no other homeland! Bibi, go home, we’ll pay for the gas! Overthrow swinish capitalism! Be practical, demand the impossible!
What is missing in this array of slogans? Of course: the occupation, the settlements, the huge expenditure on the military.
This is by design. The organizers, anonymous young men and women – mainly women – are very determined not to be branded as “leftists”. They know that bringing up the occupation would provide Netanyahu with an easy weapon, split the tent-dwellers and derail the protests.
We in the peace movement know and respect this. All of us are exercising strenuous self-restraint, so that Netanyahu will not succeed in marginalizing the movement and depicting it as a plot to overthrow the right-wing government.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports:
Israel’s Interior Ministry gave the final green light Thursday to the construction of more than 900 new homes in a Jewish development built on land seized during the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinians and anti-settlement groups said the Har Homa expansion, which has been working its way through Israeli regulatory agencies since last year, will occupy one of the last remaining undeveloped hillsides in the area and effectively cut off direct access between Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Palestinians hope to one day include both areas in a contiguous, independent state.
“This is very alarming because it will create a very big obstacle to the two-state solution,” said Hagit Ofran of Peace Now, an Israeli group that tracks settlements.
She said the project, one of the largest planned in East Jerusalem in recent years, appears to have been fast-tracked, based on the speed of the approval process. Nevertheless, she said construction would not likely break ground for three more years.