August 3, 2011


Israel's secular middle class strikes back: The protest started over property prices, but has widened into a popular uprising that is worrying Netanyahu's rightwing coalition (Carlo Strenger, 8/02/11,

Israel's liberals were hardly to be heard: protests against the laws were limited to the press, academia and some public intellectuals. The public was silent.

The reason for this was that Israeli liberals were largely identified with the left and its attempts to bring peace with the Palestinians. Israel's electorate has never forgiven the left for its promise that peace was at hand, a promise ripped apart by endless suicide bombings in Israel's cities during the second Intifada from 2000 to 2003. The citizenry was further angered when, after Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, this area became the launching pad for years of rocket-shelling of Israel's south. Peace seemed a hoax; liberals looked hopelessly naive at best.

Lieberman and Netanyahu rode this wave of anger and depicted Israeli liberals as anti-Zionist collaborators with Israel's enemies. And it seemed as if nothing could stop the wave of totalitarian measures they implemented. [...]

[T]he apolitical character of the protest is being challenged. Netanyahu is already claiming that the protesters are driven by political motivations. His intent is clear: he wants to delegitimise them and claim that their real goal is to topple his government. This, he hopes, will weaken nationwide support for their demands. On Monday, members of the Likud central committee started to say that the demonstrators are just a bunch of sushi eaters with nargilas (Arab pipes) - ie leftist radicals - and that the media was exaggerating their numbers.

Because the process so far has been rather chaotic, it is very difficult to predict what it will lead to. If the Likud and Yisrael Beitenu step up their attack, the protesters will not have any choice but to confront the current coalition in the political arena as well.

They will have to say that taxpayers' money in Israel has been spent lavishly in the occupied territories; that billions of shekels go to child support for the ultra-Orthodox, most of whom do not contribute to the economy; that the silent collusion of Israel's governments with the settlers is ruining the country morally, politically and economically. In the end, the call for social justice and the demand to reinstate liberal values in Israel cannot be separated.

Once these demands are politicised, anything can happen. Netanyahu may be able to delegitimise the protests as an undemocratic attempt to topple his government, and support for the uprising may fizzle.

But it could also be that Israel's secular middle class will feel this is its last chance to assert its rights against the coalition of national-religious, extreme right and ultra-Orthodox parties, and that this is the moment to stop Israel's move to the right that is pushing the country towards an apartheid regime, moral, economic and political bankruptcy.

Posted by at August 3, 2011 7:56 AM

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