The Arab Spring Comes to Israel…

And Bibi Netanyahu is terrified because it’s not Arabs taking to the streets, but the Israeli middle class.

Here’s a nice big shout out to the folks in Israel who have managed to get their leaders re-focused on a domestic agenda that revolves around middle class priorities. Good for them.

In case you weren’t aware, over the past week record numbers of people have taken to the streets- some say as many as 400,000 people- demanding a better quality of life and lower housing prices. It has caught the right wing government of Bibi Netanyahu totally off guard. You see, Bibi spends so much time obsessing about real and perceived threats from beyond Israel’s borders that it seems he and his merry band of Likudniks have been ignoring the electorate. Desperate to change the subject, some in Israel have noticed that Bibi has increased bombing campaigns in Gaza and the government has been arresting Palestinians left and right, most recently at the Freedom Theater, which is a place for Palestinians (and Jews) to come together and promote nonviolence. So naturally Israel has waged an all out war on the theater because we can’t have any of that liberal, namby-pamby, “coming together” stuff! It’s just so, well, gay!

From +972:

The People! Demand! Social Justice! Despite all the spins, all the lies about sushi eaters and hookah smokers, about spoiled privileged whiners pretending to be hurting financially just to topple an economic wiz of a Prime Minister whose foreign and security policy they disagree with, the people refuse to comply with the spin. Some 300 thousand took to the streets on Saturday to keep up the heat on the government in demand for solutions to the spiraling cost of living issues.

This comes after a week in which PM Binyamin Netanyahu spat in the eyes of all the protesters by passing his Trojan horse of a “national housing committees” bill, which will ostensibly release land for construction quicker, but in fact will simply enable the construction of slums without regard to engineering, environmental and infrastructure concerns.


The entire right wing is freaking out. All their websites have been dominated for the past week or more by attempts to dispute the number of protesters, to disparage their motives and to “prove” that this is all about spoiled hipsters who insist on living on Rothschild Boulevard – ignoring the fact that at Likud events across the country, the party’s own constituents shouted out at their leaders that they, too, support the protests.

The far right Kahane followers from the settlements even decided that “if you can’t beat them, join them”, with long-time Kahane leaders Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben-Gvir pitching a tent on the Boulevard and telling the press that “on social issues, I’m more left than left.” Despite this, they proved deeply unable to get with the spirit of social justice for all, trying to bring their divisive rhetoric and reaping the anger and detestation of the majority of protesters on location. Meanwhile, protesters from the right-wing Hatikva neighborhood were making common cause with Arab ones and chanting “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”

All this time, Netanyahu is quietly trying to bring about a security crisis. The Israeli Air Force bombed Gaza a couple of times until the desired couple of flying pipe bombs flew out, but Hamas itself cracked down on the launchers. In the West Bank, the IDF is arresting people and carrying out raids deep in Area A. This weekend, an actor from the Freedom Theater in Jenin was arrested, and several hours later the theater itself was raided, as were villages in the Hebron area. Nothing will help Netanyahu more than an outburst of violence on the borders. In this he is aided by the same man foiling his dairy reform – race-baiter extraordinaire Foreign Minister Yvette Lieberman, supreme leader of the aforementioned Yisrael Beitenu party.

Liberman has taken to warning of an impending bloodbath in September, ahead of the UN vote on recognizing the amorphous “Palestinian State.” According to Lieberman, the Palestinians are planning all sorts of devilry and violence. And the fact that the Palestinian Authority is calling on its people not to confront Israel in September? Or the fact that the IDF itself says it has no clue where Lieberman is getting his prognosis? Never mind! Fearless leader knows best. And if the Palestinians don’t rise up, we’ll push and prod and provoke them till they do.

Another fear that may be used to deflect the just aims of this uprising is economic in nature. On Sunday, the Tel Aviv Stock Market dropped six percent before trading was halted.

Interestingly, the reaction [to the protests] from more right-leaning Jewish organizations here in the U.S. has been more negative than positive, which is strange. I guess maybe it has something to do with the Thou Shalt Not Criticize Bibi rule. I think it also has something to do with what I mentioned above, that the right likes to focus almost entirely on problems they perceive as being caused by others (ie. Arabs, international criticism of the occupation, Iran, etc.)

If anyone finds some good links on this issue let me know. I have to run right now but I’ll update this post because I find this whole thing fascinating. I’ll admit that I am rather jealous at this point- I wish middle class here in the U.S. would rise up and take to the streets in record numbers, causing panic in the halls of Congress. Think about it- what are we waiting for? Things to get worse? Political demonstrations in and of themselves don’t result in instant change but they can send an important message to policy-makers that the status quo is no longer acceptable.

Of course the United States (State Department) has used the protests in Israel as an opportunity to do some more pro-Israel pandering, saying that the nonviolent protests are a testament to Israeli democracy. Ambassador Shapiro:

The United States has no position on the internal matters of the state of Israel. But we admire the strength of Israeli democracy. The citizens of Israel know that they can demonstrate in the streets without fear of violence, and that’s not the case in many other places in the region. The people and the government will decide together how they will deal with the serious social and economic problems about which people are demonstrating. And we are confident our democratic partner will come out of this period even stronger.

Got that everyone? Israel is a democracy, dammit. Of course, if those 300,000+ people just happened to be Palestinians instead of Israeli Jews I have a feeling they might not “know that they can demonstrate in the streets without fear of violence”. And of course, if they were Palestinian, Ambassador Shapiro and the State Department wouldn’t be saying one damn thing in support of them. In other words, spare me.

As an aside, it’s really too bad that Secretary Clinton and President Obama have chosen the path of least resistance and become little more than fluffers for the Israel Lobby when it comes to events in the Middle East. As I’ve said many times here and pretty much everywhere else I blog, Secretary Clinton would probably be the best person to lean on both sides of the conflict in order to usher in an equitable solution precisely because of her pro-Israel bona fides. People would be hard-pressed to claim, with any credibility, that she’s anti-Israel in any way, shape or form. I’d love to know what she really thinks of all this but at this stage, I’m very, very disappointed in the State Department. With each passing day they seem to recede farther into the distance when it comes to demonstrating leadership in the Middle East, totally unwilling to utter a sentence that might be construed as controversial by Israel, Congress and/or the Lobby. It’s almost as though they have given up ahead of the 2012 elections.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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One Comment on “The Arab Spring Comes to Israel…”

  1. thainjacobs Says:

    Good for the Israelis for getting their act together and taking to the streets. We need to do that here in the US. Also, arab Israelis need to take to the streets and demand equality under law.

    It really is horrible to watch the state dept become Israel’s rubber stamp. Sometimes how I wonder how they rationalize it to themselves or do they just live in a bubble surrounded by people who are ardent Zionists and who constantly reinforce their belief that the Palestinians are responsible for every problem over there?


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