Tel Aviv police arrested 42 activists, which is an extremely rare number, “if not unprecedented,” according to +972 Magazine, which has been closely following the circumstances surrounding the sudden rise of Israel’s progressive left.
The protests are part of a larger movement that began as opposition to rising housing prices, and indeed is still centered around that issue, but has spread to other social justice and progressive causes.
These protests are being described as “the greatest challenge PM Netanyahu faces on the home front,” and show that the progressive left in Israel has awoken.
Change in Israel may be coming.
Noam Sheizaf offers a good visual description of how, last week, these protests began to foment:
"It happened almost overnight: Friday morning a week ago, walking near Habima Square in central Tel Aviv, I saw only a handful of tents, with no more than a few dozen Israelis who answered an internet call for an ongoing protest against rising rent costs. On Saturday evening the tents covered an entire block on Rothschild Boulevard, and protesters threw cottage cheese containers on the Likud HQ on nearby King George Street. A couple of days later, the tent protests came to dominate the news cycle.These protests, which began as explicit anger at the rising rental prices in cities across the country, have been fueled by the response of Netanyahu’s government, which initially, with hostile rhetoric, dismissed them as being part of a large, leftwing movement being funded by outfits such as the New Israel Fund. The initial rhetoric, which claimed that the protests were not about anything other than the “Zionist Left’s” political agenda, only served to increase protesters’ anger and resolve.
Housing minister Ariel Attias (Shas) argued that the protesters were spoiled kids that refuse to leave the fashionable center of the country, but by Tuesday there were tents in Jerusalem, the southern city of Beer Sheva and as far north as Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanon border (see a map of all the protests here). By Wednesday protesters tried to break into empty apartments in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; the tents on Rothschild Boulevard stretched several blocks, all the way from Habimah Square to Shenkin Street, and marches and rallies were scheduled for the weekend. The Friday papers declared that Binyamin Netanyahu sees the tent protest as the greatest potential political threat to his governing coalition."
These reactions from Netanyahu and other government officials have served to broaden the protests, which have now moved from rent prices to a host of social justice issues: women’s rights, union rights and education reform, among other things, with general chants of “revolution” heard on the streets last night.
What has yet to be heard, in the protests, are calls for more democracy in the wake of the anti-democratic laws that have recently been passed. Also absent has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
However, as these protest spread, and all indications are that they are going to continue – as Israel’s progressive left awakens – I suspect that all of the above issues will become represented by the protests, which are taking on a large, general “anti-Netanyahu” bent.
For the first time, last night, Israel appeared as its neighbors have for some time. Yes, the protests may have had a different genesis, but they share a common thread: anger with the current regime.
Things may be changing in Israel.
Author’s Note 1: Protests have moved in earnest to Jerusalem, where a thousand protesters blocked the entrance to the Knesset.
The protesters, who have set up camp in the city near the Prime Minister’s residence, marched by Netanyahu’s home on their way to the Knesset. As Haaretz reports:
"On their way, the protesters passed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence and tried to block a nearby street while calling on Netanyahu to resign. They were consequently scattered by police forces and continued marching to the Knesset."This, from Haaretz, shows that Netanyahu’s frustration is clear:
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuked Likud ministers on Sunday for not trying to solve the housing crisis that gave rise to the mass nationwide protests.Meanwhile, more tent cities have sprung up throughout Israel, showing that this crisis only appears to be growing for Israel’s ruling class.
Sources close to Netanyahu said he is extremely frustrated by the Likud ministers’ lack of cooperation, not only in trying to find solutions but also for not defending the government in media interviews."
And in Haaretz, Gideon Levy addresses what many commentators have wondered: how could these protests impact larger political issues (such as I/P) in Israel? He writes:
"If this unclear struggle by the renters of apartments on Shenkin Street is successful, matching the struggle against the price of cottage cheese, then additional Israelis will see that it is worthwhile, and that there is a chance and there is hope. Perhaps then they will go out and fight for matters that affect our fates to a much greater extent. If they see they have the strength to reduce the price of one-room apartments of 30 square meters, perhaps they will understand that they also have the power to change the nature of the country – 22,000 square kilometers not including the occupied territories.Author’s Note 2: Aziz Abu Sarah, in a very interesting piece called “Israeli housing protest makes no connection to the occupation,” writes:
If the struggle succeeds against the tyranny of the apartment owners and the Finance Ministry – which was what motivated them to go out and demonstrate – perhaps they will find the way of struggling also against other more severe forms of tyranny. That is the big test before the people.
A political pilot project whose importance cannot be underestimated is taking place now on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, and in other tent cities throughout the country. It is up to the Israelis to blow an empathetic, encouraging and impassioned wind into their sails. We must now leave apathy and cynicism behind at home and go out to the tents".
"This argument doesn’t hold water anymore. It seems like many Israelis didn’t receive Mr. Daum’s memo about Israel’s golden era. On Saturday tens of thousands protested the housing problem in Tel Aviv. The main squares in Israel have become tent cities. Medical doctors and students are protesting their working conditions as the prices of food and gas are increasing rapidly. School teachers’ paychecks are shrinking every year . The social democratic ideals upon which Israel was established are evaporating. The rich are getting richer and the poor remain poor.Author’s Note 3: For additional reading on the “tent city” protests, I suggest the following:
Israel’s low unemployment rate and high GDP are indeed impressive, but not necessarily indicative of a healthy community. China has the second largest economy in the world and has one of the highest GDPs. However, China is run by dictators and is filled with poor people. Many of Israel’s poor are the employed poor.
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."
+ Understanding the tent protests
+ Why we march tonight
+ Netanyahu rebukes ministers: give me ideas to solve housing crisis
Author’s Note 4: Christy1947 has a diary up discussing the possible connection between Israel’s housing crisis and the settlements, among other things. It’s a very interesting read.
"What bothers me the most are the people in America, almost as much as the government itself. Time and time again the people have been blindsided and yet, nobody is willing to raise their voices of the matter. I see the people of Egypt, Libya, and Algeria, to name the least, rise up against their government generally without violence. They see what their rulers are doing wrong and the people know how to fix it. They never sit in a coffee shop talking to their college friends about how their government is corrupt or how they should change a law or bill; these people fight back. I say at least more than half of the reasons why nothing seems to change or happen is because of the general public. The people should believe they have a say in any matter, seeing that this nation was built "by the people and for the people." The Tea Party tries to stick by the constitution as much as possible and you would think that their followers would challenge them on the subject. But with the blind, sheep mentality of the supporters, the idea of change simply fails. If the people would open their eyes and become aware of what their rulers are doing, change is sure to come. Now lets hope that America doesn't try to weasel in this protest and take control like they have with Libya."