Israel’s July 14 social justice movement is really like a campaign in support of sunshine. Who’s going to oppose it? The supporters of social injustice?
To the extent that Israelis were inspired by the example of the Egyptian revolution, this seems to have gone no further than sharing in the empowering experience of being among thousands of people who have taken to the streets, joined by a sense of solidarity. But solidarity around what?
The difference between J14 and the Egyptian revolution is the difference between asking for a pay raise or telling your boss, “You’re fired!”
As Ami Kaufman wrote recently, “Although the protesters are demanding ‘social justice,’ what they’re really asking for is ‘more money!’”
Joseph Dana and Max Blumenthal explain how easy it has been for Israelis to call for social justice while ignoring the occupation.
The decision to exclude the occupation from the grievances of the July 14 movement was entirely organic. No hired gun consultant advised movement activists to avoid the hot button issue in order to broaden the appeal of the demonstrations. The mainstream of the Jewish public decided on its own, and without much internal reflection, that social justice could exist alongside a system of ethnic exclusivism. Thus, while the July 14 movement proceeded through cities across Israel bellowing out cries for dignity and rights, Palestinians remained safely tucked away behind an elaborate matrix of control — the Iron Wall. Ten years of separation had not only rendered the Palestinians invisible in a physical sense. It had erased them from the Israeli conscience.
“It’s very strange to see a social justice protest without mentioning occupation,” Gidi Grinstein, a confidant of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads the Reut Institute, a government-linked Israeli think tank remarked. “But most people in Israel don’t even believe there is an occupation anymore. They see the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and think there is a functioning government. They hear about the Palestinian statehood resolution at the UN in September, and they think Palestine is a real state. So there is this cognitive dissonance among Israelis.”
For years Israel’s tiny but intensely motivated left-wing tried to mobilize mass protests against the occupation, hoping they could shake Israeli society out of its slumber. But the settlements grew, and the occupation became more and more entrenched. Suddenly, with hundreds of thousands of their compatriots in the streets demonstrating against the most right-wing government in their country’s history, some leftists began conjuring visions of a revolution.
“We have failed to end the occupation by confronting it head on but the boundary-breaking, de-segregating movement could, conceivably, undermine it,” wrote Dimi Reider. Reider claimed the demonstrations could achieve dramatic change because they “may challenge something even deeper than the occupation.” Hagai Mattar, a veteran anti-occupation activist and widely read journalist, echoed Reider’s unbridled enthusiasm. “For the first time in decades, perhaps, we are witnessing the impossible becoming possible,” Mattar wrote on the popular Hebrew website MySay. “What appeared to be a mere fantasy half a year ago… has become a vivid reality.”
Many members of the Israeli left have suffered for their activism. Some have been injured by Israeli soldiers during protests in the West Bank, where they routinely dodge rubber bullets and high-velocity teargas projectiles. Others have served months in prison for refusing to serve in the Israeli Army. With a suite of anti-democratic laws passed by the Knesset, they fear a coming crackdown. But perhaps the greatest source of suffering for Israeli leftists is having been cast out of one of the most tribalistic societies in the world. Many are turned down for housing and employment on the grounds that they refused military service. The very word “leftist,” or smolini, has become an insult in the Hebrew language. Hoping to replace the communal bond their society had denied them, the radical leftists who have not escaped to the squats of Berlin or Barcelona formed a tribe within the tribe.
As the July 14 protests gathered momentum and manpower, members of the radical left bolstered the movement with their tactical experience and fearlessness in the face of police intimidation. On July 23, when hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv, Israeli police forces arrested 43 demonstrators. Most of them were leftists who attempted to block a major intersection. The most prominent among them was Matar. Normally, the arrests of left-wingers at anti-occupation protests go unreported. In this instance, however, the arrests were broadcast to a national audience during the prime time news. After being released from their jail cells, the demonstrators were greeted by their fellow Israelis not as traitors but as heroic leaders.
“The radical left is no longer an outsider, but forms an important part of the mainstream,” Matar wrote recently in an article celebrating the protests. If this new movement welcomed leftists, and upheld them as its vanguard, how could it not be revolutionary?