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.”

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.

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