Sunday, August 7, 2011

So, who is the leftist here?

Who are they and what are they, these young people who set up a tent encampment on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv which then spread to the whole country and succeeded in organizing huge demonstrations and rallies for the third consecutive week? What sort of people could they be, what might they be if they go out into the streets and chant at the top of their voices "The People Demand Social Justice"? What kind of people are not willing to leave economics to the free-wheeling free market game played between the great capitalists, on the assumption that when the rich become even more rich there will fall down some crumbs also on the table of those who are down the social ladder? Who are demanding  the creation of a welfare state, where the government would ensure fair housing at affordable prices to all, and take care of education and health and all public services, and fund all of this by imposing higher taxes on the rich and the well-to-do?

Everywhere else in the world it would be obvious and unequivocal: these are left wing activists and this movement is a left-wing movement, by its very nature and essence. The call for social justice and for a welfare state is the kind of demand associated with the left since the concept "Left" came to be known in human social and political life. So it had been for centuries, even long before the birth of a man named Karl Marx. But in Israel, all of this is considered as "A Social Issue" which is considered politically neutral, a subject unrelated to the struggle between Right and Left and on which  they can struggle together.

Left and Right in an ethnocracy

As was the common wisdom in Israel for decades, the division between "Left" and "Right" in this country, those considered "Political", are  the occupation of and construction of settlements on the West Bank, the siege of the Gaza Strip, the need of going to war versus the possibility of reaching peace with the Palestinians and all Arabs. Also the status of Arabs inside Israel had somehow gotten into  this slot,  whether they are citizens with equal rights and what status they can have in a "Jewish Democratic State"; whether the Bedouins in the Negev are living on what remained of their ancestral lands or are "squatting on state lands".
On all such issues the dividing lines are sharp and clear: right-wingers are those who regard Israel as a state for Jews and Jews only;  on the left are those who uphold and defend the rights of non-Jews, who heartily despise the occupation and settlements, as a moral abomination as well as destroyers of the Israeli society  itself.
In recent years, there also came up the issue of refugees and migrant workers from Third World countries, especially Black Africa. Naturally everybody slipped into their obvious positions. The right-wingers shifted right away from purveying Arab-hatred to spreading crude stereotypes against the immigrants and calling for their immediate deportation and establish a "Neighborhood Watch" to physically attack them on the streets, while activists from the left worked intensively to help them and defend their rights as human beings (and taking care to remind that we Jews were ourselves persecuted unwanted refugees, not so long ago).

But what has all this to do with "Social Problems"? If we dig a bit deeper, we could see that in the common Israeli terminology, "Social Problems" means problems in the relationships of Jews among themselves. And by this definition, a right-winger can regard himself as as a full-fledged social activist, and to offer neat right-wing solutions to social problems. Just expropriate more Palestinian lands in  the Territories and built huge new settlements, and the housing problem is solved. And for those who don’t want to go there, the right-wing has more to offer – just throw the Sudanese and other Blacks out of South Tel Aviv, and presto – there are thousands of apartments standing free! So Barcuh Marzel, disciple and successor of Rabbi Meir Kahane, could declare without hesitation and without blushing "Where  social issues are concerned, I am more left than the left-wingers."

The racists' challenge

Last Thursday the extreme rightists, Kahanists and settler "hilltop youth", invaded the Rothschild Boulevard encampment and marched among the tents and chanted insults against Arabs and Blacks,  and at the corner of Allenby Street set up their own tents decorated with such signs as "Tel Aviv for the Jews" and "Sudanese, go back to Sudan". Which set a fundamental challenge for the protesters. Would this be accepted as a legitimate and natural part of the protest, in which "there is no distinction between Left  and Right "? Could racists join the march and chant along with everybody "The People Demand Social Justice", in between their own specific chants of "Death to the Arabs"? What would be the point and the value of such a protest?

But the protesters stood the test. In between the intense preparations for the big march to the government offices on  Kaplan Street, the tent encampment's general assembly adopted a resolution to strongly condemn any group calling for the expulsion of another group on racist, ethnic, religious, sexual or geographic base.  Now it was needed to implement the resolution. As reported in the struggle's Facebook page, where the racist tents had stood, there was set up an encampment specifically dedicated to democracy and the equality of all human beings, with its byword "Say No to Hatred!".

Now, the struggle for social justice can resume. Marzel was a nuisance, back to the main target: at the offices of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.

Wrath of the revolution

The section above I wrote before I left for the rally, but had no time to translate and publish it. And just before I set of to Tel Aviv I saw on the struggle's Facebook page an exhortation worth quoting in full: 
Anyone who is tired of the protest, cheer up the protest really works it makes a change people from all walks identify with the struggle but of course the government waits for the protests to  fade away they are waiting for the revolution to get tired and fall down by the roadside. Today our wind becomes a storm, a tornado! We want to see half a million people in the streets  screaming and kicking and shaking things up! We will show them that we are serious and that spirit of the revolution will not evaporate so quickly, not before it becomes a devastating storm which sweeps them away! Do not give up, never give up - tonight we hit the streets!!

Well, it was not quite half a million people (at least not this week). But  three hundred thousand is not nothing...

See photos from The Mother of All Demonstrations in +972 Magazine