Tel Aviv protesters: “Egypt is here!”

An estimated 300,000 marched in cities and towns across Israel Aug. 6—the biggest mobilization yet in a growing movement for economic justice. More than 200,000 marched in Tel Aviv alone—one of the largest demonstrations in the history of the Jewish state. Even after the march ended, a hardcore of several hundred protesters blocked the intersection of Rehov Kaplan and Ibn Gvirol, two of the city’s main arteries, singing Jewish songs late into the night and and chanting the movement’s token slogan: “The people demand social justice!” (Jerusalem Post, Aug. 7) Israel’s progressive 972Mag shows a photo of a giant banner from the rally with the word “Go!” in Arabic—a key symbol of the protest movement that brought down Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and a clear reference to Benjamin Netanyahu. Below, in Hebrew, are the words: “Egypt is here!”

The Israeli news portal YNet reports on the efforts of far-right activists, led by Baruch Marzel (in the news recently for leading an occupation of Joseph’s Tomb and schmoozing with Glenn Beck), to derail the political direction of the protests with anti-immigrant scapegoating, marching with slogans such as “Tel Aviv is Jewish, Sudanese go to Sudan!” But the account also notes that the participation of Marzel and his odious followers was rejected by most of the protest leaders.

AFP notes in the headline that the movement now seeks “radical change”—but is tilting to the left, not the right. Protest leader Hadas Kushlevitch outlined a list of agreed-upon demands to the French news agency: “We demand a halt to privatisation, cuts to indirect taxes, a comprehensive programme for affordable housing and free schooling from an early age.”

Haaretz even reports that the tents set up by the far-right “Hilltop Youth” in the protest encampment were burned by leftist protesters, sending them packing—and leaving them to kvetch to a reporter, “You show up only when a mosque is torched. What about this?” (Seemingly oblivious to the reality that the reporter he was talking to had, in fact, shown up.)

On the other hand, the AFP account also noted a hesitancy to embrace demands for increased taxing of the rich, or cuts to spending on the military and West Bank settlement. “At this stage we’re not raising the question of financing,” Kushlevitch said.

AlJazeera especially notes that protest organizers have been silent on the issue of the occupation. “Right now close to 85% of the public is in support of the demonstrations and yet the protesters still maintain the line that they are apolitical—meaning they refuse to discuss the issue of occupation,” the Arab media giant quotes Israeli journalist Joseph Dana. “But the sad reality is that if Israelis discuss Palestinian rights, specifically the rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, they very quickly lose public support. If there is no criticism of the occupation, it would provide an absolute proof that the Israeli society is not ready or willing to discuss this occupation.”

Some protesters, to their credit, are putting this assumption to the test. Dimi Reider on 972Mag offers a glimmer of hope even here:

First, a tent titled “1948” was pitched on Rothschild boulevard, housing Palestinian and Jewish activists determined to discuss Palestinian collective rights and Palestinian grievances as a legitimate part of the protests. They activists tell me the arguments are exhaustive, wild and sometimes downright strange; but unlike the ultra-right activists who tried pitching a tent calling for a Jewish Tel Aviv and hoisting homophobic signs, the 1948 tenters were not pushed out, and are fast becoming part of the fabric of this “apolitical” protest.

A few days after the 1948 tent was pitched, the council of the protests—democratically elected delegates from 40 protest camps across the country – published their list of demands, including, startlingly, two of the key social justice issues unique to the Palestinians within Israel: Sweeping recognition of unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev; and expanding the municipal borders of Palestinian towns and villages to allow for natural development. The demands chimed in perfectly with the initial drive of the protest – lack of affordable housing.

The expropriation of the Bedouin to make way for Jewish-only housing in the Negev is an ongoing outrage, and it is a real sign of hope that the Tel Aviv protesters have adopted this demand. Let’s see if they will now go the next step and also embrace the Palestinian demand for a halt to expropriation and settlement on the West Bank—at which point, the Israeli protest movement will become truly dangerous. In a good sense.

Stay tuned.

See our last posts on Israel/Palestine and the econo-protests.

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  1. Intra-Semitic divide-and-conquer
    Seraj Assi writes for the pan-Arab al-Bawaba under the ugly if witty headline “Israel ‘walks like an Egyptian’ but protests like a bourgeois Zionist”:

    [I]it must be recalled that by far the Tel Aviv protests are taking place within the Zionist consensus. For many Arab citizens, the protests are widely seen as a bourgeois distributional conflict over Zionist colonial spoils. No wonder the protests are directed against high housing prices per se rather than against the founding policies and fundamental causes behind the crisis.

    We wish Assi could take heart at the hopeful signs of cracks “within the Zionist consensus” that have emerged in recent days. He goes on to note:

    When a year ago Arab residents of Jaffa took to the Ajami neighborhood to protest the new housing plan designed exclusively for Zionist-Jews, known as Be’emuna Jews-Only housing project, they were dismissed as subversives to the state’s Jewish character. When they later marched to Jerusalem to demonstrate ahead of the High Court hearing over the project, they were widely presented as a punch of unruly Arabs. Requests and petitions by Ajami residents to stop work in the project have been unanimously dismissed by the Tel Aviv District Court and the High Court of Justice.

    All undoubtedly true. But he fails to note that now the Tel Aviv protesters have just issued a statement of support for the Bedouin who are being evicted from their villages to make way for all-Jewish housing in the Negev. We hope Assi is paying attention to these developments. Change has to begin somewhere.

    Alas, there are still formidable cultural barriers to Arab-Jewish unity against the Middle East’s oppressive regimes. 972Mag notes “(Some) Arab Twitterers use anti-Semitic tag in discussing J14” (J14 being a reference to the July 14 protest that launched the movement). Writer Noam Sheizaf was, like us, elated at the Tel Aviv banners that read “Walk Like An Egyptian,” and other signs of emergent pan-Semitic solidarity. He took pictures of the banners and tweeted them around. But then:

    Thawret Welada-l-Kalb is Arabic “revolution of the sons of dogs.” This is nothing to do with politics—it’s pure anti-Semitism. One of the people using this hashtag tried to explain that he meant Zionist, not Jews in general. Naturally, I don’t buy this, just as you won’t accept an explanation from an Israeli who said “death to all Arabs”, but then clarified he only meant Hamas supporters. Micro-managing your racism only makes things worse.

    Yet, at the same time, there were Arabs Twitter users who denounced this hashtag, calling it racist and shameful. And as always in such cases, some of the clearest voices came from Palestinians.

    Nice that Sheizaf could end on a note of hope. The Palestinians who defend the dignity of the Jewish protesters are to be supported. As are those Jewish protesters who vocally repudiate the expropriation of the Bedouin and Palestinians.

  2. 400,000 Israelis march for economic justice
    More than 400,000 Israelis marched in cities across the country Sept. 3 to demand economic justice, in what was say likely the biggest protest mobilization in the country’s history. A crowd estimated at 300,000 showed up in Tel Aviv for what organizers had billed as a nationwide “March of the Million.” Israeli media reports variously put the number of protesters who gathered in Jerusalem at some 60,000. Tens of thousands more turned out in Haifa, and sizable marches were also held in more than a dozen other cities, from Eilat in the south to Kiryat Shmona in the north. (JTA, Sept. 4)