Sunday, July 31, 2011

"The people want social justice" - protests in Israel

Has the Arab Spring come to Israel? If you expect to learn about this by reading the New York Times or listening to NPR, you're out of luck - they haven't discovered the story yet. But fortunately we have some independent journalists from Israel reporting on something different from the usual hopeless Israel-Palestinian conflict stories.

My friend Gershom Gorenberg reports from Jerusalem:
The dead have come to life.
I saw them marching tonight through Jerusalem, jumping, swaying, pounding pots and water-cooler bottles as drums, the Israelis in their twenties who’d been written off in a thousand political obituaries as dead of terminal apathy, sweating in the absurd heat close to midnight, roaring so deep you could hear their throats tearing in anger and in joy at being angry together and being alive again.

'People before Profits'
‘People before Profits’ (Gershom Gorenberg)
They came flooding down from Zion Square through Independence Park and up Agron Street to the square outside of one of Netanyahu’s three homes, and they sang an old kindergarten song about “my hat has three corners” rewritten as “my Bibi owns three houses,” and they overflowed up onto the walls and fences past the sidewalks and they danced with mad happiness at seeing each other.

They chanted “The people want social justice!” and “What’s the answer to privatization? Re-Vo-Lu-Tion!” and waved flags, both blue-and-white and red. They cheered for the Arab medical student telling the government it has to pay for health care, and for the teacher decrying the pure insult of treating teachers as temp workers, and for the rabbi quoting Isaiah....

For those reading from abroad, I also note that so far, foreign editors have completely missed what’s happening here, because the stories they expect from Israel are about war and terror and peace talks, so they haven’t gotten their minds around two weeks of protests that just keep getting bigger, Israelis inspired by Egypt, demanding what was once the basic minimum here before the poison of privatization arrived: free education, free health care, affordable apartments.
Read the whole thing.

For more coverage, from +972: Marches for Social Justice in Israel.
Huge protests in cities across Israel signal they are a growing political force

The housing and social protests tonight reached a huge crescendo, with throngs flooding streets in over 10 cities across the country Israel. Haaretz is reporting roughly 150,000 people around the country in Hebrew (most conservative estimate in the morning papers belongs to the pro-Netanyahu free paper, Israel Hayom: 100,000 protesters).

Compared to the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 who demonstrated last week, the number of protesters around the country may have more than quadrupled.

In Tel Aviv, the roar of frenzied euphoria mixed with anger preceded the crowd as the parade rounded a major intersection on its way to the Tel Aviv museum. Screams of “revolution” were echoed all over the country. Estimates speak of 10,000 in Jerusalem, similar numbers in Haifa and Beer Sheva, along with demonstrations in Kiryat Shmona, Nazareth, Ashdod several other locations.

Like last week, the Tel Aviv demonstration ended with a large and loud sit-in at a major traffic intersection (Dizengoff and Kaplan streets); police formed human chains to block streets, mounted police appeared, and eventually called to break up the protesters. Eight were arrested and released in the following morning.

At first glance, it appeared that the crowd’s demands were not significantly different from last week. The main rallying cry was still: “The people! Want! Social justice!” with a generous dose of “Bibi go home,” as well as anti-capitalism, pro-welfare state slogans, all laced with dripping sarcasm along the lines of: “The market is free, but we’re slaves.”

Over the last two weeks, the protests have been criticized as unfocused and lacking concrete demands. Tonight there were new signs of a plan taking shape. In the final speeches, after a lineup that included celebrity musicians, the organizers wrapped up with several quite specific demands. In what sounded very much like an ultimatum, they said that Netanyahu has until Wednesday, the day the Knesset goes on recess, to do two things: Withdraw the pending law for national housing committees – which they consider deeply damaging  - and prevent the privatization of the Israel Lands Administration, which holds the vast majority of land in Israel.

On Sunday, Netanyahu has announced that a team of ministers would meet the representatives of the protest movement. The director of Israel’s finance ministry has resigned in the morning following the protest, citing the protest among his reasons.

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