Israel Economic Protests: What Game is Being Changed?Posted: August 1, 2011
This past April, the Forward reported:
(The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) has reported that poverty is almost twice as widespread in Israel, 19.9% of the population, compared to the OECD average, 10.9%. The gap between the overall standard of living in Israel and that of the lowest tenth of the population was three times higher than the OECD average. In its latest release of data, made public April 12, the OECD reported that 39% of Israelis find it “difficult” or “very difficult” to live on their current incomes, well above the OECD average of 24%.
Those stats might explain this more recent news out of Israel:
More than 150,000 protesters took to the streets in 12 Israeli cities, calling for a change in the division of wealth and the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Tel Aviv, an estimated 100,000 protesters marched from Habima Square to the Tel Aviv Museum. “We are happy to see the people of Israel taking to the streets, each in their own city, each with their own troubles, but many troubles that are common to all of us,” said one of the organizers, Yonatan Levy.
This one is a game changer, no question, but the jury is still out on how much it might eventually change, or what the game even is. Indeed, as Dahlia Scheindlin and Joseph Dana have just reported in +972:
Every grievance is coming out: there are slogans against the huge concentration of the country’s wealth into the hands of a very few, slogans raging against enormous economic gaps between rich and poor in Israel, lists of demands for just resource distribution and for various elements of a welfare state, salary hikes and lower costs, better education conditions and health care; against the national housing committees law, against the government, for Tahrir. At 10pm on Friday night, when a song group spontaneously burst into chants of “The people! Want! Social Justice!” one young woman sang out beatifically, “The people! Want! All Sorts of Things!”
It’s also notable that one critical cause of this economic disparity is glaringly absent from the protesters’ concern, as Aziz Abu Sarah noted last week:
What amazes me is many Israelis’ inability to make the connection between the continuation of the occupation and the domestic problems Israel faces today; Israel is building constantly in the West Bank but it is failing to provide housing to its citizens within Israel proper. The current Israeli government’s focus on improving living standards in settlements while failing to do the same for the rest of the country is a moral failure.
According to a Peace Now report published on July 20, settlers in the West Bank receive 69 percent discount on the value of the land (so that buyers have to pay only 31 percent of the price of the land) and 50 percent funding of the development costs of the building project. In 2009 Israel investment of settlements public building (excluding East Jerusalem) was 431 million shekels, which was 15.36 percent of all public investment in construction for housing that year, despite the fact that they compose only 4 percent of the residents of Israel.
Scheindlin/Dana drive this critical point home in their article as well:
On Friday, some protesters hassled other Palestinian protesters, citizens suffering from housing crises. It came to scuffles. The diminutive Palestinian flags they hung were removed. Joseph recalls the struggles against apartheid in South Africa and Jim Crow south. Can we imagine the ruling classes there demanding “social justice” without addressing their gravest internal injustices? What does the term “social justice” mean if so many who don’t have it are left out? Sure, let’s protest exorbitant housing costs – but why call it “social justice” if the very crux of social justice, namely equality, is not addressed? Can Israelis have a social justice revolution without speaking about the rights of people they control and occupy?
The remarkable power of these grassroots protests is undeniable – but just how far it goes in shifting power still remains to be seen.
(While we wait, however, at least we can enjoy this great mix by Israeli viral video satirist Noy Alooshe – see above…)