Israel’s J14 ‘social justice’ movement — just about money?

Since it began, Israel’s J14 ‘social justice’ movement, has made what was ostensibly a tactical choice to be apolitical and sidestep the divisive issue of the occupation.

Following a chorus of appeals to take a stand on this pivotal issue, the movement has implicitly done just that.

Max Blumenthal reports:

On August 14, a month after the demonstrations began, the movement finally tackled the situation across the Green Line. But instead of connecting the concept of social justice to the rights of everyone living under Israeli control, July 14 officially endorsed (website is in Hebrew) a tent protest for “social justice” in the illegal West Bank mega-settlement of Ariel.

Presumably J14’s Ariel protesters welcome the latest news about their illegal settlement:

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved the building of 277 apartments the West Bank settlement of Ariel, defying U.S. criticism of continued settlement construction.

Barak authorized the construction in Ariel, the core of the settlement bloc deepest inside the West Bank. One hundred of the apartments will house Israelis evacuated in 2005 from a Gaza Strip settlement.

Jerome Slater notes:

Many of Israel’s bravest and most admirable opponents of the occupation—people like [Jeff] Halper, Bernie Avishai, Gideon Levy, Yitzhak Laor, and others—are enthusiastic about the protest movement. Others, like Akiva Eldar, Amira Hass, and Uri Avnery, while of course strongly supporting the social justice goals, are uneasy about the decision to exclude the occupation or skeptical about the likely outcome. For example, Hass writes: “In the coming months, as the movement grows, it will split. Some will continue to think and demand ‘justice’ within the borders of one nation, always at the expense of the other nation that lives in this land. Others, however, will understand that this will never be a country of justice and welfare if it is not a state of all its citizens.”

In light of divisions within the Israeli left and the persuasive arguments on both sides of the debate, an outsider is in no position to reach a confident assessment about the issue. Yet, I can’t help feeling uncomfortable about the current strategy of the protest leaders. First, there is an important difference between the social justice protests and the last mass protests in Israel, which were over Israel’s complicity in the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres in Lebanon. The latter was unambiguously driven by moral considerations; the former, while certainly containing a moral component, is also driven simply by economic self-interest, especially since it has become a populist movement linking the Israeli right with the left. For that reason, there is little reason to be hopeful that the movement signals a moral transformation of Israeli society.

As far as Ami Kaufman is concerned, J14 is really about one thing: money.

Although the protesters are demanding “social justice,” what they’re really asking for is “more money!” – as painful as that may sound. What they’re really shouting is, “Hey! How about a little less capitalism, and a tad more socialism!” Let’s not forget what triggered these demos: Daphne Leef couldn’t afford her rent and set up a Facebook page. It doesn’t get more financial than that.

This revolution is all about money. Sure, there are also elements of “justice” in it (better education for all, health services for all, better taxation, the end of rampant privatization and more) – but the engine of this movement is the realization of people that the system is screwing them. The system gives too much to the rich, and less to them.

Haggai Matar, the Israeli refusenik and activist who until now was ready to pronounce the fight against the occupation a failure, is not ready to write off J14.

It is still too early to predict exactly where the “J14” social protest movement is heading. But for the first time in decades, perhaps, we are witnessing the impossible becoming possible. What appeared to be a mere fantasy half a year ago, while we were watching the people of Egypt take their dreams into the streets, has become a vivid reality.

For example, on the very first day after the Rothschild camp was erected, I met a young Tel Aviv friend with no background in political activism, who decided to protest his high rent. In a discussion about the struggle, he was very adamant about the need to avoid any issue that was not directly related to the housing problem. A week later, I ran into him again, lecturing passionately to friends about why this must be a struggle to change the entire economic system, not just the rent. I learnt that between our two meetings he participated in several workshops about the economy, which took place in the tent camp, and watched films critical of privatization. This has radicalized him in a way that was never before possible in the militaristic security-driven discourse that ruled Israeli political culture since before 1948.

The very next day we witnessed the first mass demonstration in the streets of Tel Aviv and it was here that I first felt that the “people” in the slogan “the people demand social justice” might for the first time actually refer to all Israel’s people or citizens, not just Jews. This simple republican notion, with its radical potential of including Jews and Palestinians in the same mainstream movement against neo-liberal capitalism, would soon prove its worth. The following week’s rally, probably the biggest demonstration in Israeli history, already featured a Palestinian speaker, an Israeli citizen, on stage (Dimi wrote about this here).

Just seven short days after that, more than ten Palestinian tent camps were set up within Israel’s borders. Palestinian citizens have joined the “encampments assembly” – the national leadership of the struggle. Their demands for recognition of “unrecognized” villages and for construction permits on their own lands are being integrated into the official struggle agenda. Last Saturday night’s protest, which focused on the periphery rather than Tel Aviv, saw Palestinian citizens as major partners, if not outright initiators. This was true not only in bi-national Jaffa and Haifa, but also in Be’er Sheva and Afula, where populations are almost entirely Jewish. On the central stages of all these demonstrations, speakers repeated the notion of Jewish-Arab partnership. Raja Za’atry, member of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel, welcomed demonstrators to the “Red Haifa”, and said that “hunger and humiliation, just like capital, have no homeland or language… This struggle belongs to everyone!”

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1 thought on “Israel’s J14 ‘social justice’ movement — just about money?

  1. scottindallas

    More spoiled Israelis living off the sweat of others, whether from uncle sucker, stolen tech, stolen land. These guys seem to be trying to affirm the most crass stereotypes of Jews.

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