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.
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?
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
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
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
(Jeff Halper is the director of the
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.)
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
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
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.”
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
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.
TRNN (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Why?
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.
(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.
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
CROWD: Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.
TARACHANSKY: For The Real News, I'm Lia Tarachansky in Tel Aviv.