The Lede publishes a wonderful story today in the NYT featuring a new remix by Noy Alooshe, the Israeli who produced such a devastating video, Zenga Zenga, skewering Moamar Qaddafi’s TV speech railing against his enemies. This time, Alooshe is sticking a pin in Bibi Netanyahu, who may regret his pompous reassuring claim during a world TV interview several months ago in which he boasted that in the midst of the Arab Spring, Israel was the sole stable country in the entire Middle East. I wonder what Bibi thinks of that interview now that 300,000 protestors in Tel Aviv yesterday shouted slogan borrowed from Tahrir Square (“The people want social justice”). In fact, Israeli media is reporting that Arab news outlets are calling J14, the “Israeli Spring.”
Today, Bibi announced a bit of cosmetic surgery by which a government commission will draft proposals to “change” the Israeli economy to “address” the protesters demands. The plan is for the members of the new body to meet with protest leaders and others to come up with recommendations. No one yet knows who will be on this body, and a number of prominent Israelis who were invited declined the invitation. It will have the power only to recommend policies, but these proposals may be changed or jettisoned by the government itself. And Bibi’s statements today about the entire matter are less than reassuring:
“I’m attentive to the protest, but we can’t satisfy everyone,” Netanyahu stressed at the cabinet meeting. “We’ll listen to everyone. We’ll act sensitively and responsibly … We’ll conduct a real dialogue. We won’t present lip-service solutions; we want to bring real solutions. In the end, we’ll be judged on our practical solutions.”
This is typical Bibi-ese. Appear to be proposing or promising something out of one side of one’s mouth, while out of the other you take it all back and say you never for a moment meant it. That way, you can say a thing and it’s opposite at the same time. It’s a feat Harry Houdini or Teflon Ronnie Reagan would’ve admired. And any reasonable person knows what Bibi means: he’s buying time for the fervor of the protests to die down so he can return to business as usual. That is, socking it to the working and middle class, cutting budgets and social safety nets, letting corporate profits soar, increasing the income gap between rich and poor, and watching as the level of poverty continues to increase. Essentially, it’s free market economics run rampant. A place Milton Friedman would’ve loved.
Reuven Rivlin, the Knesset speaker and a Likud loyalist with independent leanings, spoke words that can’t have ingratiated him with Netanyahu, when he claimed that the legislative body wouldn’t finish out its complete term. He said that the protest movement would likely force early elections. Not music to Bibi’s ears. And this is the first dribble of discontent which all leaders hate to hear, because they know that a rushing torrent of criticism may follow. When a top loyalist stakes out independent ground and says the emperor is, if not naked, then near-naked, you know “something’s happening here,” in the words of Bob Dylan.
Perhaps too early to envision new elections. But the floodgates have opened a hair and the torrent may soon follow. The truth is, though, that new elections will change little. Even if Kadima wins that election Livni’s policies will be a variant of Bibi’s. She’ll tinker around the edges and claim she’s a breath of fresh air when she’s nothing of the sort. I believe that Israel’s politics are bankrupt. The Knesset does little of any significance except preening over highly combustible nationalist issues like boycott and criminalizing free speech for NGOs. I have little hope that Israel’s leaders can lead the country, as Moses did, out of the desert into which they’ve wondered. The solution to Israel’s major external problems, if there is any, lies outside, with a “higher power,” if that’s the right term.
Dimi Reider has just published one of the most incisive essays I’ve read about the J14 movement at 972 Magazine. The main point he makes concerns the carping of left-wing activists against the protests, who note protesters demands neglect a key element in political discourse–that is, the Occupation. Reider notes that while this is so, the protests are addressing the Occupation, but in a subtle way that is much more likely to penetrate the Israeli Jewish consciousness. Highly recommended.
To support the J14 social justice movement, you may make a donation here. It’s a good cause and I’m going to make a gift now.