In the past week, Israel has witnessed the largest mass social protest movement in decades. 150,000 demonstrated a few nights ago in cities and towns throughout Israel against the rising cost of living and deterioration in virtually every aspect of Israeli quality of life including massive cuts to health care and education; and massive increases in housing costs. What is different from previous political protests is that this is a middle class uprising against the government and its social and economic policies.
This movement has also been heavily influenced by the social protests of the Arab Spring. Demonstrators’ slogans have made pointed reference to Tahrir Square and the fact that “it can happen here” too. Social media are playing a similar role in helping organize the events just as they did elsewhere in the Middle East. As much as some might wish Israel to be an island apart in this region, it is very much a part of it. And to the extent that this continues there is hope that Israel will eventually succeed at integrating itself.
Israel’s loudest supporters don’t hesitate to remind the world of the success of the “Israeli Tiger” in all manner of fields of economic endeavor. But what is left out is the massive discrepancy between Israeli haves and have-nots. The fact that one-quarter of Israelis live beneath the poverty line. That one-half of children do as well. The disparities in relative wealth between the richest and poorest are among the highest in the world.
This is now coming back to haunt Bibi Netanyahu, a politician who made his reputation spouting Friedman economic slogans and giving the cold shoulder to anyone who shed tears for the under class. Now hundreds of thousands are turning a cold shoulder to Bibi’s economic theories.
It is ironic and unfortunate that this movement seems to have little awareness of the financial price to be paid by Israel for the burden of Occupation and military budgets which contribute to the impoverishment of Israelis, whether rich or poor (except perhaps those on the defense industry gravy train). Likewise, there is no awareness of the injustice of Occupation or the fact that justice for Palestine would also enable Israel to pursue new economic and social initiatives.
Regardless of all this, the tent protest movement has the very real chance of toppling this benighted government. Now, I have little belief that a new government would do a much better job of addressing these same issues. But just about anything (except a Yisrael Beitenu government) would be better than what now governs the country.
All that being said, it is important to note the very real possibility that Bibi will seek a military distraction to relieve the pressure generated by the social protest movement. In fact, Maariv political correspondent Shalom Yerushalmi writes in today’s edition that Bibi may be contemplating doing just that:
Don’t Mount a Military Initiative
We warn [you] of dubious military threats. The nation boils and Knesset is in recess.
Our politicians are cynical enough to initiate a political or security initiative designed to destroy the protests threatening to overturn them. We are here to restrain them from pursuing this.
Every such proposal must be examined by seven sets of eyes (a reference to the senior ministerial committee which approves all major government initiatives), my friends. Every unnecessary heating up at the borders will arouse immediate fears. Every military threat which they devise for us will be examined by those seven sets of eyes. Every military initiative will be approached will skeptically, especially at this moment. The people are no fools and have proved it in the past few weeks.
Do you harbor doubts about Yerushalmi’s warning? You need look no farther than recent news from Lebanon, which tells us that someone (and who might that be??) may’ve planted a bomb in the Hezbollah compound in Dachiyeh, which wounded Samir Kuntar. He is the notorious (to Israelis) terrorist who several decades ago participated in the attack which brought the death of five Israeli civilians, including two small children.