Protest moves from housing to rule of oligarchs and neo-cons
Women’s groups join popular protests in Israel
WIZO, Na’amat encourage parents to join demonstrations; students launch tent tied to helium balloons outside Tel Aviv’s Akirov towers, throw stink bombs in protest of housing shortage.
By Haaretz and Gili Cohen
The Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO ) and Na’amat women’s organization joined the struggle against the high cost of living in Israel, Friday, while dozens of students gathered outside Tel Aviv’s Akirov Towers to protest housing prices.
WIZO and Na’amat, who together with Emunah make up the three major organizations operating day-care centers overseen by the government, called upon parents to join demonstrations set to take place across Israel on Saturday.
Meanwhile, outside the Akirov Towers, students launched a tent tied to helium balloons and threw stink bombs at the building.
The students rebuffed a letter sent Thursday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was written by Israeli tycoons including Alfred Akirov, Nochi Dankner and Yitzhak Tshuva, calling upon Netanyahu to work against the high cost of living and support social justice.
Also Friday, dozens of students from Sderot blocked the Sha’ar Hanegev intersection in Israel’s south. Protesters called out demands for public housing and social justice, and against privatization.
Thousands turn out across Israel in latest round of mass protests
Demonstrations are held in more than ten cities across Israel in bid to lower housing prices; PM Netanyahu mulls tax breaks to quell the public protests.
By Ilan Lior , Jack Khoury, Nir Hasson, Yanir Yagna and Gili Cohen
Protests against the spiraling costs of living in Israel, that have become a nationwide phenomenon, were held Saturday in cities across the country.
Tent cities have been erected throughout the country in recent weeks in a bid to bring about a reduction in housing costs, and last Saturday thousands turned out for a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv in which several were arrested in scuffles with police.
Gatherings took place Saturday in Tel Aviv, Kiryat Shmona, Nazareth, Haifa, Modiin, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Jerusalem and Be’er Sheva, Hod Hasharon and Raanana.
The protests began at 9:00 P.M. on Saturday and will end with concerts by several well-known Israeli performers including Yehuda Poliker, Barry Sakharov and Yishai Levi.
The largest event took place in Tel Aviv, with organizers saying 30,000 took part. The march began in HaBima Square, just as it did last week, and made its way to the Tel Aviv Museum. A mass rally will take place at the plaza in front of the museum, where the musical performance will be held. The protesters carried signs saying “the people demand social justice” and “when the government is against the people, the people are against the government.”
In Haifa, thousands of people marched through the city, and in Jerusalem thousands marched from Horse Park to the house of Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The protesters shouted “he nation demands social justice.” On their route, they passed the site of the housing protest tent city set up in Jerusalem’s Independence Park.
In Be’er Sheva, over one thousand protesters marched carrying banners saying things like, “Be’er Sheva is shouting times seven.” ‘Sheva’ is the Hebrew word for the number seven.
In Ashdod, protesters are marching from City Park. Around 150 people gathered at Ashdod’s tent city on their way to the march. Students from Beit Barel marched from the tent city at Kfar Sava to central Ra’anana junction.
For the first time since the beginning of the protests 16 days ago, a protest involving both Jews and Arabs took place in central Nazareth. In Kiryat Shmona 500 protesters marched in the city’s main road, towards the southern exit of the city.
“We are trying to find specific direction for this dream,” Stav Shafir, one of the protests’ organizers said in Tel Aviv on Saturday, adding that “at this stage in the protest the bravest move would be to allow us to express our dream – what a social state is.”
The housing activist added that protesters “want a state in which protesters is provided with their basic needs – attainable housing, attainable health care, attainable education – an attainable future.”
Motorcyclists also joined the housing struggle. They gathered at Cinema City near Glilot Junction and left from for a slow-ride to the demonstration near the Tel Aviv Museum.
Earlier Saturday, Likud MK Ofir Akunis said Netanyahu is setting up a team to examine the lowering of taxes. Akunis told Army Radio that “the government is attentive to the public, and so it is working to ease the burdens.”
More political than politics
For Israel’s housing protest to succeed, it must be defined as political – and it must be translated into political acts. The issues it raises must be placed at the center of Israel’s democratic life. The argument over who gets what must find expression within political parties and elections.
By Michal Shamir
The housing protest is political. Politics, as communications theorist Harold Lasswell once explained, is about “who gets what, when and how.” Every action taken to influence policy is politics. Thus there is nothing more political than the tent camps springing up around the country.
The housing protest also makes a clear left-wing statement. In the world of political ideas, demands for social justice, the state’s responsibility for its citizens’ welfare, reducing social gaps, and equality are the very essence of the left. Even in the realm of practical politics, these are the issues at the center of the political battle in most of the world’s democracies. These issues are the main difference between parties in the elections and constitute the basis for the accepted definitions of left and right.
Why isn’t this obvious? Because in Israel, “left” means being a dove and in favor of peace and compromise with the Palestinians, while “right” means being a hawk and swearing by the greater Land of Israel. Ever since the Six-Day War in 1967, the party system, politics and the political debate have been mired in the political divide defined by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This is particularly noticeable, and critical, in the socioeconomic realm, which is what defines politics in most countries. In Israel, there are no clear differences between the major parties on these matters.
The major parties do not propose realistic and well-thought-out alternatives. There is no ongoing, intelligent public debate that can help citizens understand the issues, formulate a coherent doctrine and then connect this to their party preference and their vote. Questions of socioeconomic policy are easily defined as professional matters, which politicians must never touch.
Since these controversial issues are not on the parties’ agenda or reflected in their election campaigns, the public’s preferences in these areas go unrepresented. The vast majority of the public is very far from its leaders and the neoliberal policies they have been implementing for years; most of the public wants an egalitarian social policy that reduces socioeconomic gaps. But these preferences find no expression in the Knesset, or in policy.
Almost 60 percent of the members of the 18th Knesset belong to parties that clearly espouse a neoliberal, capitalist position: Likud, Kadima and Yisrael Beiteinu, which together have 70 MKs. But the public is somewhere else entirely when it comes to socioeconomic policy, and many studies show that.
In the 2009 Israeli election survey, we repeated a question that we have asked for over 40 years: “When it comes to economic life in Israel, do you favor the socialist approach or the capitalist approach?” Among those who answered the question, 32 percent chose capitalism and 68 percent supported the socialist approach.
This is the lowest support for capitalism we have found since the Economic Stabilization Plan was launched in the mid-1980s. That plan marked a turning point in Israeli economic policy, from a policy with a socialist character to a liberal capitalist policy.
The 2009 survey also found that 74 percent of respondents thought “the government should be responsible for ensuring that everyone has a job and a reasonable standard of living”; only 9 percent thought that “the government shouldn’t intervene and everyone should look out for himself.”
The fact that the political parties and the political debate are locked into the divide of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is what has enabled Israel’s acute transformation – from a society that served as a global exemplar of solidarity and equality in the 1970s to a society so unequal that it rivals the United States – to proceed so smoothly and “naturally.”
Thus for the protest to succeed, it must be defined as political – and it must be translated into political acts. The issues the housing protests raise must be placed at the center of Israel’s democratic life. The argument over who gets what must return to the political foreground, which means it must find expression within the political parties and the elections.
Otherwise, it will once again be swallowed by the black hole of the dispute over the territories.
Israelis demand dignity
The protest of the middle class, no longer willing to be milked and abused, may be a first step to cleaning up the mess of Israeli politics.
By Carlo Strenger
In the last year, the Middle East has looked strangely upside down. Tunisia ousted its dictator, Egypt finally toppled Mubarak and Syria’s Assad is greatly weakened even though his troops keep killing their own citizens. Meanwhile Israel, supposedly the Middle East’s only democracy, passed one totalitarian law after another: dictating to its citizens what they could say about the Nakba, or boycotting Israel, and what they had to be loyal to.
While Arab citizens rebelled against their regimes, Israel’s citizens meekly swallowed infringement after infringement of their liberties. They didn’t say a word about the fact that its governments, for years, let a small number of families control Israel’s economy with money borrowed from the middle class’s pension funds and savings, making Israel look like an oligarchic banana republic.
Neither did they say a word about the fact that Haredi families, without contributing to the economy, receive enormous sums in child support; or about the fact that settlers enjoy reduced prices for public transportation that runs on a byzantine road system in the occupied territories designed to prevent them from having to drive on the same roads as Palestinians.
The middle class neither had the lobbying power of the wealthy nor the political clout of ultraorthodox or national-religious sectarian parties willing to use their king-making power to milk the system. Paying exorbitant taxes, pulling Israel’s economy from economic backwater to a success story, they received nothing in return except soaring prices and the disdain of those they elected to serve them.
Politics, unfortunately, is rarely a pretty sight. Just look at the farce that is Italy; look at the shame that is the Republican Party in the world’s leading democracy, bringing the world’s financial system to the brink of disaster just to score political points.
But the Netanyahu government has pushed cynicism beyond good and evil: Israel’s citizens, for all intents and purposes, had given up on their country. Their anger was silent, but the discontent was soaring: according to the Democracy Index published by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2010 only a quarter of respondents trusted political parties, and hardly more than one third the Knesset.
They had gotten used to be battered without responding: Israel’s tax burden is among the highest in the free world. Why not have a government that includes thirty ministers and vice-ministers, each endowed with offices, cars, protection and the like?
Israel has become a country in which doctors get paid less than babysitters by the impossibly hours they work, their patients’ lives endangered by their tiredness; in which doctors’ protests that have been going on for months are simply disregarded. Never mind that there is no minister of health; and that the vice-minister of health Yaakov Litzman represents a constituency that only uses tax-money while hardly contributing to the economy. Oh: let’s not forget that formally Mr. Netanyahu is minister of health. But he’s busy having El Al planes outfitted to the tune of hundreds of thousands of shekels to have a more comfortable trip with his wife.
It has become a country in which the foreign minister can call human rights organizations terror groups and get away with it; in which the prime minister can talk about painful concessions for peace while silently endorsing ever more land extractions in the occupied territories.
Some have criticized the protests that began in Tel Aviv Rothschild Boulevard as naïve, because these young people do not have precise demands from the government. This is true; for they have started to protest against a tangible source of misery: exorbitant rent without claiming that they know what they solution is.
But they are not accepting Netanyahu’s attempts to buy them off: they are beginning to understand that the reasons for the social misery they no longer accept are rooted deeply in Israel’s political system and culture. They are beginning to understand that Netanyahu is the epitome of the cynicism that permeates Israel’s political class – rivaled by Ehud Barak, whose only ethical principle seems to be that he must be minister of defense and Avigdor Lieberman, who is perfectly willing to drive Israel into isolation to position himself as Israel’s right-wing strongman.
Rothschild Boulevard has become Israel’s Tahrir Square. It has become the place where Israeli citizens are beginning to reclaim their country from complacent politicians who have come to believe that they are accountable only to their own party centers that, in turn, are run like corrupt family businesses, with votes being bought and sold by the thousands.
The protesters must not lose sight of the fact that the housing crisis is only the tip of the rotten iceberg that is Israel’s political system. The only thing that will really help is for a whole generation of politicians to disappear into the dustbin of history. It is time for those who have come to see power as their birthright to accept that they are resounding failures.
Israel is blessed with many gifted people who could run the country well. None of them are willing to even consider joining the political system – for good reasons: they don’t want to join the backslapping crowd of horse-traders that fill the halls of the Knesset and the central committees of Israel’s parties. They are people used to be productive; not to waste taxpayers’ money to court favor giving jobs to their friends.
When Heracles was told to clean the Augean’ stables, he turned a river through the yards, and swept the dirt away. The young who started Israel’s Tahrir Square protests may not be able to clean the mess that is Israeli politics. But the protest of the middle class, no longer willing to be milked and abused, may be a first step.
The only way to clean up the mess of Israeli politics is for Israel finally to get a constitution that carves into stone that Israel is committed to inalienable human rights independently of race, creed and gender and freedom of expression; that defines the numbers of ministries and the qualifications needed for each ministry, such as to prevent appointing ministers incompetent to deal with their subject matter; and that stipulates the total separation of state and religion.
In brief, a constitution that reminds politicians that they are here to serve and not to dominate and that defends human dignity that Israel’s governments are trampling.