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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Support Israeli Protests Without Illusions

Widen Israel’ July 14th Movement to Encompass Israel’s Arab Citizens

You Cannot Have Social Justice Without Equality

On 3rd September a march, not quite a million but approximately 450,000 took part, in protest at the neo-liberal free market policies of Netanyahu and Likud, ably supported by ex-Labour leader Barak and Kadima. In fact neo-liberal policies which have destroyed the welfare state in Israel (with the exception of the settlements who are the biggest beneficiaries of welfare) have hit hard at ordinary Israeli Jews. Of that there is no doubt.

The key question is whether or not the movement will embrace Israel’s Arab citizens and go on to raise ‘divisive’ questions such as the equality of all, the creation of a democratic instead of the current theocratic or racist state.

I met a Zionist on today’s Ahava protest who said the Left in Britain did not support Israel’s mass protest movement. That is not true. I have heard of no opposition to the movement but a hope that the movement against the changes that have pauperised Israel’s Jewish population will widen to include Arab grievances.

Tony Greenstein

Israelis sceptical of government-appointed committee to look into protest demands, organize biggest protest in country’s history
Israel’s “March of the Million” brought out more people than any other protest in Israel’s history. Meanwhile the government has decided to keep quiet, only appointing Professor Manuel Trachtenberg to head a committee to look into the demands of the J14 movement. Started on July 14, this march was the sixth in a row, and while many on the street have different ideas about how to move ahead, most have little faith in the Trachtenberg committee. The Real News’ Lia Tarachansky in the video below reports from Tel Aviv and talks to protesters about how to move forward.

Haaretz 4 September 2011

It is not possible to call on Jews and Arabs to demonstrate together while waving in their faces "legitimate" questions about army service.
By Yitzhak Laor

It is worth returning to the moment that preceded Saturday's giant demonstration, when Channel 10 broadcaster Sharon Gal raised something of a storm after he forced Daphni Leef, the young woman who initiated the protest movement, to explain in an interview why she had not served in the army. He brought to his defense another broadcaster from the same channel, Raviv Drucker, who assured him that the question was "legitimate." The two birds of a feather together sang the remnants of a discourse that has still not ended, that finds expression in an ongoing attempt to destroy this leader of a different kind of politics, that of compassion and freedom of speech, with the help of this discussion of "guilt."

That same day, Col. (Res. ) Ze'ev Raz, who led the 1981 attack on the Iraqi nuclear reactor, forwarded to several people an e-mail from Lt. Col. (Res. ) Uri Shpirko, in which he lamented his economic situation given his military contribution, and after the old, familiar rhetoric, he wrote: "Two weeks ago, I was outside the Tel Aviv Museum with 100,000 demonstrators and I chanted with a dry throat, 'the people demand social justice' - and I tell you, the revolution has begun, big time. There were people there from east and west, from north and south, youngsters, older people, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The protest was so multifaceted that I fell victim to its charms."

The former chief education officer of the Israel Defense Forces, Brig. Gen. Nehemia Dagan, responded to this e-mail: "It is a shame that these idealists are also cultured and polite, and that what was done by the Egyptians in Tahrir Square is not being done here. Forgive me if I say to you that the Egyptians knew where their leaders had taken them. We do not. In the end, everything will be fine, but it is just a shame that among the good guys of today several thousand will be missing who paid with their lives for that which these (are not ) doing, since we are 'cultured.'" Even the army officers are starting to internalize a new language - free of guilt - and are not asking "legitimate" questions.

For many years, the state victimized us with the help of commentators who taught us the sentence "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Whether this phrase was used by the late U.S. President John Kennedy or by former Knesset member Shmuel Flatto-Sharon, it was not aimed at people who can't make ends meet but rather at those who make us meet our ends. No longer. What has died here around us is that kind of patriotism. In its stead, a new discourse has sprung up - we are human beings and therefore we have the right to live as human beings. It is not possible to call on Jews and Arabs to demonstrate together while waving in their faces "legitimate" questions about army service.

Ever since the protest began, it has been carried out along two conceptual channels: On television, they interview all kinds of spokesmen that no one has appointed. Shahar Ilan, for example, continues to see everything as an attack on the ultra-Orthodox. After all, Ashkenazi students cannot call on their Mizrahi counterparts to join in a common struggle and to harass yeshiva students. Prof. Dan David also continues to scare us with talk of "an Arab-Haredi majority," and both of them are brought to the television studios on the back of the "protest wave." Time and again, there are those who try to bring into the protest discourse things that were not said there.

The power of the protest lies in the fact that it has not been dragged into populism of this kind: neither that of the present state budget ("yeshiva students are parasites" ) nor of the employment market ("they are also not productive" ). It is also only on television and in analysts' columns that the burden of serving in the reserves is mentioned, not in protest announcements. The way in which Leef turned her back on Gal should be engraved as a symbol: You can cover the story but don't give us grades or advice since, anyway, the protest doesn't interest you unless it is a scoop about a split, as if you were talking about the Kadima party. And don't make trouble between partners for the future.

* Published 21:28 03.09.11

Protests held in major cities across Israel represent biggest rallies in country's history; protest leader says 'we have chosen to see instead of walking blindly toward the abyss.'
By Oz Rosenberg, Ilan Lior and Gili Cohen

Over 450,000 protesters attended rallies across the country last night calling for social justice in what was the largest demonstration in Israeli history.

The main protest took place in Tel Aviv's Kikar Hamedina, where some 300,000 people gathered after marching from Habima Square about two kilometers away. Protest leader Yonatan Levy said the atmosphere was like "a second Independence Day."

Protest leaders Daphni Leef and National Student Union Chairman Itzik Shmuli both addressed the Tel Aviv crowd. "Mr. Prime Minister, the new Israelis have a dream and it is simple: to weave the story of our lives into Israel. We expect you to let us live in this country. The new Israelis will not give up. They demand change and will not stop until real solutions come," Shmuli said.

"My generation always felt as though we were alone in this world, but now we feel the solidarity," said Leef. "They tried to dismiss us as stupid children, and as extreme leftists," but last night's countrywide protest proved otherwise, she said.

Dr. Shiri Tannenbaum, a medical resident leading the young doctors' protest against the recent collective wage agreement signed between the government and the Israel Medical Association, also spoke at the Tel Aviv rally.

In Jerusalem, an unprecedented 50,000 people filled Paris Square and the surrounding streets, almost twice the number that attended previous protests this summer.

Actress and comedienne Orna Banai told the crowd in the capital: "I am not amused that there are hungry children here; that we have a soldier rotting in captivity for five years; that Israel is one of the poorest examples there are of human rights."

The chairman of the Hebrew University Student Union, Itai Gotler, said: "We changed this summer. The voice of the mother, the teacher, the student, have been heard...The fire of protest was lit in Tel Aviv, but the tent city in Jerusalem shows that the protest belongs to all of us."

Gotler said the Jerusalem tent city was closing down, but pledged to continue the struggle.

Yehuda Alush, 52, from Be'er Sheva, among a group of protesters from the Negev who marched to the capital, said: "This protest must not stop or we'll lose." In Haifa, the protest drew 40,000 people, many of whom waved red flags.

The Haifa protest focused on the issue of discrimination against Arabs. Shahin Nasser, representative of the Wadi Nisnas protest tent in Haifa said: "Today we are changing the rules of the game. No more coexistence based on hummus and fava beans. What is happening here is true coexistence, when Arabs and Jews march together shoulder to shoulder calling for social justice and peace. We've had it. Bibi, go home. Steinitz, go and don't come back, Atias, good-bye and good riddance," he said, referring to the prime minister, the finance minister and the housing minister, respectively.

The chairman of the University of Haifa's student union, Yossi Shalom, told the crowd, gathered at the foot of the Bahai Gardens in the city's German Colony, "There is no more beautiful sight than social solidarity. As a student, this is the most important lesson I have learned in recent months." At the protest in Afula the numbers reached 12,000; in Rosh Pina, 7,000 and in Kiryat Shemona, 7,000.

Meanwhile, in the south, a total of more than 1,000 people took part in rallies in Mitzpe Ramon and Arad. Ya'akov Laksi, an organizer of the protest in Arad, told the crowd: "Social justice means Arad will no longer be called an outlying town. We need to bring people work."

Laksi said organizers had expected only 100 protesters.

"We want the government to increase funding, not take from someone else," Eyal Adler, an organizer of the protest in Mitzpe Ramon said.

A protester who gave her name as Ruthie, said: "We are far from the eye of the media, but we deserve no less funding and a change in the funding map of Israel."

Concerns over possible rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip led the Home Front Command to issue a directive prohibiting demonstrations in Be'er Sheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon.

Eli Ashkenazi and Yanir Yagna contributed to this report.

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