Israel's J14 movement: Can it break out of the Zionist box? Palestinians fight for equality in J14

The Real News Network -- August 6, 2011, saw the largest demonstration in Israel's history, in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis poured onto the streets to demonstrate against high housing prices and rising costs of commodities. Meanwhile, Israel's Palestinian citizens, who make up 20% of the population, are joining the movement that began on July 14 and is known as J14. The Real News' Lia Tarachansky spoke to Dror K. Levy, a professor of cultural studies at Haifa University, Mary Copti, a central community leader in one if Israel's mixed cities of Jaffa (Yafa), and Wafa Abu Shamis, who began the Jaffa tent city against home demolitions and gentrification.

See also "Israel: Mass protest movement offers hope".

By Jeff Halper

August 9, 2011 -- Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions -- The demonstrations currently roiling Israel constitute a grassroots challenge to Israel’s neoliberal regime. Beginning as an uprising of the middle classes – especially young people who have trouble finding affordable housing – it has spread to the working class, the poor and the Arab communities as well, though not the religious as yet.

Many of the working sectors have joined the three-week protests: doctors, single mothers, parents demanding free education, taxi drivers upset with the price of petrol, even the police. The Histadrut, Israel’s general trade federation, and many municipalities have joined as well. The August 6 protests brought some 320,000 people into the streets.

The big argument is whether it should be "political" or not. I attended the demonstration on August 6, and while the main slogan was “We demand social justice” (although chants of “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu” could also be heard), it was clear that most of those attending wanted the movement to remain “non-political”, rooted squarely in the mainstream consensus. Its thrust is anti-neoliberal, though not in framed those exact words. Instead, issues are still defined in more narrow, technical ways: affordable housing, affordable education, etc. This may be an effective beginning strategy, since it does bring in the wider public. Many of those support the protests, the taxi drivers for example, tend to vote for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. The politics, however, are just under the surface. “Bibi [Netanyahu] go home” is all over the place, from posters to leaflets to chants.

(Actually, there is an éminence grise behind Netanyahu for whom these are by no means the first mass protests. Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel, figures prominently in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine. From 1990-2005, Fischer, one of Milton Friedman’s “Chicago Boys”, served as the chief economist of the World Bank, first deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a member of the Washington-based financial advisory body, the Group of Thirty and president of Citigroup International, the world's largest financial services network which handles, among other things, “global wealth management”. According to Klein, it was Fischer at the IMF who urged Yeltzin to “move fast” and sell off as many public companies and resources as possible, leading directly to the economic take-over of the oligarchs and their allies, the Russian mafia; “Mafia Capitalism” it was called. He also oversaw the “structural adjustments” of Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea in 1997, where 24 million lost their jobs and the middle classes were devastated. In 2005 Fischer was appointed governor of the Bank of Israel by Ariel Sharon; Netanyahu was appointed the finance minister.)


There are those of us from the left who are trying to push the protests into a more political direction, though we are sensitive to the fact that a gradual process of political consciousness raising has to occur. In our statements and in discussions we have in the tent cities around the country we try to put the finger on neoliberalism as a fundamental cause of inequality in Israeli society; neoliberalism as the dominant government ideology, as its overarching set of policies, as a system and not merely a disjointed collection of policies from which one can pick and choose. We also link the issue of social equality and allocation of resources to the occupation and the Israel’s massive military budget (US$16 billion, or $2300 per person, the highest ratio of defence spending to GDP among the industrialised countries). 

This is being resisted, especially by the Tel Aviv Students’ Union that has taken on some of the amorphous leadership. 

So far there is a conscious effort by the majority of protesters and organisers to exclude the occupation from the discussion and to keep the protests “non-political”. Israel flags fly galore and every rally ends with the national anthem (“A Jewish soul still yearns/To be a free people in our land/The Land of Zion and Jerusalem”). The organisers are trying to keep the protests with what Israeli Jews call the “national consensus”. This is a kind of an Israeli code meaning that the protesters do not question the Zionist ideology that Israel should be a Jewish state and are not against the government per se. It simply means that they want specific economic reforms, not to challenge the existing political and ideological system.

Ironically, it is the settlers who are pushing the protest into taking a stand on the occupation. At first they opposed the protests, arguing that the movement is only a guise to weaken Netanyahu in anticipation of the Palestinians’ call for statehood at the UN in September. But last week the extremely right-wing and racist settler youth set up tents at the protest site in Tel Aviv (under the slogan “Tel Aviv is Jewish”) to push the idea that the solution to the housing crisis is to build massively in the Occupied Territories.

 In the meantime, 42 Knesset (parliament) members of the right have sent a letter to Netanyahu urging him to solve the housing problem by building massively in the West Bank.

So two questions remain open. First, will the protests stop when they hit the glass ceiling of really confronting the neoliberal system, including the occupation? Can social justice be attained for all, structurally as well as ideologically, as long as Jews claim privileged rights over Palestinians and other citizens of Israel – all the while keeping millions of Palestinian non-citizens living under occupation or stuck in refugee camps? Are the protesters capable of genuinely calling into question the fundamental premises of the system and its policies?

Zionist box

The reality is that the vast majority of protesters serve in the army and are, genuinely and sincerely, part of the consensus. At the tent city in Tel Aviv I encountered a seven-year veteran of the Israel Defence Forces who tried to convince me that Che Guevara (pictured on a poster with an X across his face) could not be a role model for revolution because he was violent. My interlocutor, who saw himself as liberal and enlightened, simply could not grasp the connection between serving in the Israeli army – which falls under the rubric of the national “consensus” – and his non-violent beliefs. Without a will to finally break out of the Zionist box, the protesters might get half-way, perhaps to a return to some form of a welfare state. But true inclusion, full equality and genuine democracy will evade them.

In the meantime, following the mass protests, Netanyahu announced the formation of a special economic team to "reduce the soaring cost of living". It is headed by a neoliberal technocrat economist from Tel Aviv University and includes academics and “experts” from the private sector. Half the members are also government ministers. The leaders of the protest movement expressed scepticism with the team’s composition and lack of any real mandate. They were also disappointed that it did not include any of them.

The other question is: where can this movement go? After Ehud Barak & Co. finally dismantled the Labor Party, which 25 years ago had already gone neoliberal, Israel lacks a major social democratic party. (Meretz doesn’t even count at this stage.) Dov Khanin of the Communist Party is perhaps the clearest and most respected voice against neoliberalism in the Knesset and is very popular among the protesters (he is one of the few Knesset members even allowed in the tent city). But his party, which is identified almost exclusively with the Arab community, cannot serve as that vehicle. A very real and interesting possibility is that Arye Deri, an ultra-orthodox Mizrahi founder of Shas with great credibility even among the secular middle classes, will found such a party. As of now, however, the protests have no vehicle for grounding their movement. This, of course, is the establishment’s hope: that the uprising will just die once a few demands are accepted, others doomed to interminable committees as summer vacation ends.


Still, there’s potential here. Some of the discussions are becoming political (the tent city in Tel Aviv includes a "1948 tent") and it remains to be seen what will happen as the government stonewalls and pushes back.

This is an uprising worth following. Not an Arab Spring perhaps, but a promising Israeli Summer. Not a true revolution, but a return to a welfare state that is nonetheless structurally discriminatory. A process of consciousness-raising has begun amongst mainstream Jewish Israelis who for generations have been locked in “Zionist Box” of conformist thinking. Process, flux, potential are still the order of the day. One test of how far the protests can go will come in September when the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories initiate massive protests around the UN vote. What will happen if the tent protests survive and develop into September? Will they link up with their Palestinian counterparts? Will we in the critical left, who are engaged in both movements, be able act as a bridge between them? Imagine a mass march from Tel Aviv to Ramallah – and back! Now that’s when paradigms get smashed and possibilities of an entirely new social, political and economic order open up. Let’s wait and see what September brings.  

(Jeff Halper is the director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.)

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 08/14/2011 - 19:47


Some 100,000 people, Arabs and Jews, demonstrated across Israel tonight, after the J14 movement decided to break with tradition and hold rallies in a dozen different locations instead of one central rally in Tel Aviv. The decision resulted in several protests breaking local records, with over 15,000 demonstrating in Beer Sheva, over 30,000 in Haifa, over 15,000 in Afula (population 40,000). Other locations included the Arab city of Nazareth, the blue-collar town of Or Yehouda, the commuter city of Modi’in, Beit Shemesh, Netanya, Rishon Letzion and many others.

While the protest in Jaffa, which has seen many clashes between  police and protesters over the years, ended peacefully, in Or Yehouda some 500 people blocked the road and burned tires. One of the speakers at the Beer Sheva rally, a Negev Bedouin, said the J14 struggle was for everyone, and called on Arabs and Bedouin to join the protest.

While this week’s protest numbers fall far below last week’s 300,000, this is the first time a major political movement or campaign decides not to hold a rally in Tel Aviv at all and calls on everyone to demonstrate in their home towns. The organisers are still calling for a million-strong march in early September. They appear to be in no rush to begin talks with the government, preferring instead to set up mixed experts and protesters committees fleshing out various demands, including a committee on changing the system of election and governance in Israel.

Feminist Arab-Jewish blogger Lihi Yona posted on Facebook after attending one of the protests: “I’m just back form the Haifa demo… if I may, this was the most exciting experience I had in my life. The number of Arab women and men speaking to huge applause from the crowd made me believe there will be a just, equitable state here some day. [Author] Sami Michael, who chose to speak in both Arabic and Hebrew, and the Arab singer – and more importantly, the masses that rocked to that singer’s music – made this night the most amazing experience I ever had.”

“For years, I would feel the need to correct people when they’d say Haifa was a mixed city,” Yona told +972. “I would feel the need to point out that it’s not mixed, that it’s segregated. And tonight it really was an integrated city… there were more Arab speakers than Jews and each time someone would say, in Arabic, “Arabs and Jews,” the crowd understood and cheered them on.”

By Louis Frankenthaler
August 16, 2011…

Just in case it hasn’t been clarified, the J 14 protest movement is political. Moreover, the issue itself is ideological, and the establishment faith in extremist capitalism is theological.

Marching in Jerusalem with 30,000 angry citizens is political. It is a political statement that targets a political and ideological theology that prefers capitalism over social welfare. That there is a reticence or even an unwritten taboo to talk about the Occupation does not make this non-political. This too will change, and when it does, through a massive process of conscientization, the connection will be made between the Occupation, the settlement tycoons and the long-term deification of some messianic, fascist leaning utopian vision of what Israel, as a state, nation and people is supposed to be.

The Occupation is not the one and only cause of the abject degradation of the social-democratic potential that once existed in this political space called the State of Israel. Side by side with the Occupation lie additional pockets of privilege in which some benefit and the majority pay for it. Education, public transportation, access for disabled people, health care, and the wide range of social issues, currently the main subject in Israel now, are all areas where privilege is hegemonic, where further oppression is fomented and camouflaged and where social democracy is eviscerated.

The Occupation together with social oppression essentially leaves Israel in a state of social disarray with little resemblance to proper social democracy. In this sense the Occupation can be viewed, as more than a simple warning sign of a deeper political pathology. Rather, it is important to realize that the Occupation and extremist capitalism are two symptoms of a serious political condition and that the J14 movement may just be the vehicle to rouse a deeper, more nuanced national discussion on privilege and oppression that will eventually place the Occupation on the same shelf as cost of living/socio-economic inequality.

Yes, one may argue that the people are awakening; they are rubbing their eyes and searching for that strong cup of early morning coffee that may just help them put one foot in front of the other as they march in ever growing assemblies of the angry masses. The awakening is a slow one, not a sudden sit-up-in-bed, shut the alarm and jump into your shoes and run sort of awakening. And that is OK. It is a realization that one growing march after another over consecutive weeks will not draw out change sought and needed.

The protesters know that Netanyahu and his other priests of political-socio-economic scientology will try to keep the people chained with their doctrines of fear and false messianisms. The regime will try to buy people off, offer change to one group at the expense of another while stroking the ego of yet another group. Their ultimate weapon is discourse. They are happy to maintain some sort of false ideological purity and sanctimoniously charge some tent protesters with the crime of being political as if political is evil and they themselves are innocent of political maliciousness.

The reality is that political is not a crime, nor is it a curse. The demand for social justice is political, no less so than Netanyahu’s imposition of capitalist fundamentalism married to messianic nationalism that has produced, in a gross distortion of the Biblical injunction to go forth and multiply, both the Occupation and the colonization of the welfare state.

It is important, if not critical, to cultivate the process of conscientization, to talk about the Occupation and the way it has drained blood from the society. After all, both the Occupation and the current social system are repressive and one cannot shake off only one repression and leave the other in force. Once they figure this out at NGO Monitor or Im Tirtzu, the social justice movement will find themselves under attack as well. After all, the champions of ideological capitalism in the government are the Guardians of the Occupation. If they fall, what will become of their settlement beneficiaries?

[Louis Frankenthaler moved to Israel in the 90s and lives, with his family, in West Jerusalem. He is a doctoral student, doing research on young men and their departure from Haredi Judaism, and a human rights worker. His political writings have appeared in Zeek, +972 Magazine, Mondoweiss the Electronic Intifada and in Ha’aretz.]

Submitted by Terry Townsend on Sun, 08/28/2011 - 17:23


August 25, 2011 -- Real News Network -- LIA TARACHANSKY, TRNN: Following last week's terror attack against southern Israel by yet unidentified gunmen, Israel began bombing Gaza. The terror attack left eight Israelis dead. Israel's bombardment of Gaza left 15 dead, and in retaliation Gazan resistance groups began launching a barrage of rockets against southern Israel, leading to another death and four injuries.

UNIDENTIFIED: Israeli security officials said seven other people were wounded, two of them children

TARACHANSKY: On Sunday, Hamas, the party ruling Gaza, announced it reached a wide agreement among the various resistance groups to hold fire. The next day, the Israeli Security Cabinet announced it will also abide by the ceasefire rumored to have been negotiated by Egyptian mediators. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared launching another full-scale attack on Gaza would be ill advised at this point, based on the current political situation. The opposition, led by Tzipi Livni, disagreed, saying that by avoiding a large-scale military attack, Israel appeared weak. Since Sunday, however, splinter Palestinian groups continued to launch rockets into Israel, and the Israeli Air Force continued to bomb Gaza. An Israeli drone attack killed a local leader of the Islamic Jihad in Rafah city. On Wednesday night, Israel increased its bombardment of Gaza in the north, center, and south, killing six and injuring dozens. Following last Thursday's terror attack that sparked the escalation, many predicted that Israel's mass social protest movement against privatization and the cost of living would dissolve. The movement, which saw the largest demonstrations in Israel's history, announced a silent march for Saturday in solidarity with the killed.

SIGN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We won't let murders stop the welfare state.

TARACHANSKY: Despite the intention to remain silent, a group of protesters began chanting "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies."

CROWD (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

CROWD: No to another war that will end our movement.

TARACHANSKY: They were confronted by other protesters who attempted to drown out their chanting.~~~

DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): You're filming the margins of this movement, and that's too bad.


DEMONSTRATOR: This was a silent march, to respect everyone who was killed in the attack.

CROWD: Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

DEMONSTRATOR: You're filming me against them in the background.~~~

CROWD: The nation of Israel lives.

CROWD: In Israel and the territories we demand social justice.

CROWD: No peace, no welfare, overthrow the government.

DEMONSTRATOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): We're yelling because we want jobs and budgets, not another round of killing. We identify with this grief, and out of this grief we're shouting.

TARACHANSKY: Dr. Zuhair Tibi, a Palestinian-Israeli leader in the Hadash Party, was invited to speak before the crowd.

DR. ZUHAIR TIBI, HABASH PARTY, TAYBEH (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): A hungry child is a hungry child. A person without a home is a person without a home. The hunger, the housing shortage, and the social demands have no religion and no nationality.

TARACHANSKY: He was momentarily interrupted by hecklers, but was quickly supported by the vast majority when thousands began chanting "Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies."

CROWD: Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.

TARACHANSKY: For The Real News, I'm Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.

End of Transcript

Submitted by United, non-ra… (not verified) on Sun, 09/18/2011 - 16:25


September 9, 2011

Daphne and Itzik
Israel’s New Protest Movement

IT SOUNDS like the title of a romantic movie. “Daphne, Itzik and all the

It starts off with a friendship between two youngsters, he in his early
thirties, she in her mid twenties. Then they quarrel. He leaves. She

The audience knows exactly what it wants: it wants the two to reunite,
kiss, marry and walk arm-in-arm into the sunrise, to the accompaniment
of a soft melody.

As for the actors, they are perfect. They both play themselves.
Hollywood’s Central Casting couldn’t have done better.

She is an attractive young woman, wearing a man’s hat for easy
recognition. He is the Israeli young male, vaguely handsome, easily
recognizable by his nose.

* * *

THE STORY starts with Daphne Leef, an editor of short films, daughter of
a composer, unable to rent an apartment in Tel Aviv. She is fed up. She
announces on Facebook that she is going to live in a tent on Rothschild
Boulevard and asks if anyone will join her.

Some do. Then more. Then even more. In no time, there are more than a
hundred tents on the avenue, one of the oldest in town, a quiet
residential neighborhood. Other tent cities spring up all around the
country. A mass movement has come into being. Last Saturday, 350
thousand people demonstrated in Tel Aviv, 450 thousand throughout the
country. That would be something like 18 million in the US, or three
million in Germany.

Some time after the whole thing started, the Israeli National Student
Union, lead by its chairman, Itzik Shmuli, joined the protest. Daphne
and Itzik were seen as the leaders, together with some others, notably
Stav Shaffir, also easily recognizable with her flaming red hair. (Stav
means autumn.)

The media loved them. They embraced them with a fervor never seen
before. In a way that was quite remarkable, since all the media are
owned by the very same “tycoons” against whom the protesters are
railing. The explanation may be that the average working journalist
belongs to the same social group as Daphne and the other protesters –
young middle-class men and women who work hard and still do not make
enough to “finish the month”.

Also, the media need the “rating”: the public wanted to see and hear the
protests. No one could afford to ignore it, not even a tycoon eager for

* * *

THREE WEEKS ago, the first signs of a split started to appear. After
first treating the protest with disdain, Binyamin Netanyahu saw the
danger and did what he (and politicians like him) always do: he
appointed a commission to propose “reforms”. He neither promised to
implement its recommendations, nor did he allow the commission to break
the bounds of the two-year state budget already enacted by the Knesset.

* * *

For some, this was just a maneuver to gain time and let the protest
movement lose its momentum. Others pointed to the fact that the
commission is headed by an independent, 61 year old professor in good
standing, Manuel Trajtenberg (a German name written in the Spanish way)
who could be expected to do his best within the limits dictated to him.
Netanyahu himself, something between a pious Reaganite and a devout
Thatcherite, promised to change his economic views altogether.

That’s how the split started. Daphne, Stav and most of the others
refused to cooperate with the commission. Itzik embraced it and met with
its members. Daphne was not satisfied with the limited reform likely to
emanate from the commission, Itzik was ready to accept what was achievable.

Actually, the controversy was not inevitable. Daphne and her colleagues
could do what Zionists have always done with immense success: at every
stage, take what you can get and move on to get more.

But the split is much more than a disagreement over tactics. It reflects
a basic difference of world view, strategy and style.

* * *

DAPHNE IS anti-establishment. She is not doing this for slight changes
within the existing system. Though she was born into the heart of the
establishment, Jerusalem’s sedate Rehavia neighborhood, she wants to
overthrow it and to create something completely new.

Itzik wants to work within the establishment. He talks about the “New
Israeli”, but it is not at all clear what is new about him.

Just before the huge demonstration, a terrible fact was disclosed:
Daphne had not served in the army. When it emerged that the reason was
her suffering from epilepsy, something even more terrible was dug out:
when she was 17 years old, she had signed a petition of high school
pupils condemning the occupation and refusing to serve in the occupied
territories, or even to serve altogether. (Obviously, these disclosures
must have come from the files of the Shin Bet Security service, or from
one of the neo-fascist “research” centers financed by far-right Jewish
billionaires in the US.) Itzik, of course, had done his duty.

The fact that the masses joined the protest in spite of these
disclosures shows that the old militaristic language has lost its
luster. Daphne and her followers stand for a different discourse.

Some believe that it is basically a gender clash: male versus female.
Daphne’s style is soft, inclusive, affirmative, reaching out to all
parts of society. Itzik’s style is much more exclusive. Daphne and Stav
never say “I”, always preferring “we”. Itzik uses “I” freely. He raised
quite a few eyebrows when he said at the demonstration: “You are all
partners in MY struggle…”

The protest movement is heavily influenced by women. Women founded it,
women are its main spokespersons. Does this change its texture?

(I had an argument about this with a feminist friend. She insisted that
there is no basic difference between the genders, that the existing
difference is created by culture. Boys and girls are educated to follow
different role models from age zero. I believe that there is a basic
biological difference, going back to the primates and before. Nature
intended the female to bear and rear children, while the male had to
fight and hunt for food. But in the end it comes to the same: the modern
human being has the ability to shape him/herself, so we can design our
culture according to our will.)

* * *

DAPHNE SEEMS to have no ego, no political ambitions. Almost everybody
believes that Itzik, on the other hand, has his eyes set on a seat in
the Knesset – using his new-found public stature in order to join the
Labor (or any other) Party, if he cannot win the leadership of the
protest movement and turn it into a party in his image.

The latter seems unlikely. At the huge demonstration, his speech was
well received. But it was undoubtedly Daphne who really touched the
heart of the masses. Itzik spoke to the head, Daphne to the heart.

Something very strange – or perhaps not so strange – happened to the
media on this occasion. All three major TV stations covered the event
live and at length. Itzik’s speech was carried in its entirety by all
three. But in the middle of Daphne’s speech, as if on orders from above,
all three stations cut off her voice and started broadcasting “comments”
by the same tired old gang of government spokesmen, “analysts” and

From then on, almost all the media overplayed Itzik and underplayed
Daphne. The tycoons, it seems, have taken over again.

* * *

FROM THE start, the leaders of the protest insisted that the movement is
not “political”, neither “left” nor “right”. It is solely concerned with
social justice, solidarity and welfare, not with affairs of state like
peace, occupation and such.

How long can this stance be maintained?

This week, General Eyal Eisenberg, commander of the home front (one of
the four geographical commands of the army) made a speech in which he
forecast a “general war, a total war” between Israel and an “Islamized”
Arab world. In this war, weapons of mass destruction would be employed.

Military and political leaders immediately downplayed this speech,
saying that no such danger existed for the near future. But the
implications were clear: the need to expend huge sums to equip all of
Israel with “Iron Dome” anti-missile defenses, expend huge sums to buy
submarines for our nuclear arm (only partly paid for by the Germans),
and expend even more huge sums for buying the latest American stealth
fighters. Billions and billions of dollars on top of the existing huge
military budget.

Israel is becoming more and more isolated. Just before stepping down,
the US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, warned that Netanyahu is
“endangering Israel”. The Palestinian application to the UN for
recognition of the State of Palestine may lead to a severe crisis; the
conflict with Turkey is becoming more dangerous by the day; in Egypt and
other awakening Arab countries, anti-Israeli sentiments are reaching new

Can one really pretend that all this does not affect the chances of
creating a welfare state? That the momentum of the protest movement can
be maintained and increased under these darkening clouds?

* * *

THE NEXT stage will arrive with the recommendations of the Trajtenberg
commission in a few weeks.

Will they enable Itzik to celebrate and call the whole thing off? Will
they confirm Daphne’s prediction by offering only crumbs from the table
around which the politicians and tycoons are feasting? Will they
extinguish this historic movement or give it new life?

How will this movie go on? Ah, there we have to wait and see. We
wouldn’t disclose the end, would we? Assuming we knew it.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom.