UPCOMING: I’ve organized a Zoom webinar on increasing tensions between Iran, Israel and the U.S. Paul Pillar, Gareth Porter, Muhammad Sahimi and I will discuss the trajectory of U.S.-Iran relations with looming U.S. presidential elections. The program will be this Thursday, August 6th 7pm UK time, 11am Pacific and 2pm Eastern. Visit the Facebook Event page which offers info on registering for and accessing the Zoom event.
The current round of daily nightly protests in major Israeli cities against Bibi Netanyahu have been likened to the 2011 social justice protests which spontaneously erupted over economic inequality and the sky-high cost of housing. The big crowds, the sense of communal grievance against the political class, all are reminiscent of those heady days when it seemed that Israel might be on the verge of massive social change. But the movement sparked, then died out and led to little real reform. Netanyahu and the ruling class played lip service to the demands of protesters; but as soon as the cameras went dark and the crowds faded away, they abandoned the slogans, buzzwords, and fake concern.
The current protests have generated an even higher level of outrage than the earlier protests. It is directed at Netanyahu, fueled by his naked venality and the oppressiveness of his seemingly endless dominance of the country’s political life. The people are suffocating in corruption, exhausted by the prime minister’s endless strategems and conniving. They have had enough of his gaming of the system and want to be done with him.
The slogans at these rallies sound good and they broadcast the usual hopeful messaging: democracy, transparency, rule of law. But they have one fatal flaw: the protesters believe the system can be saved by getting rid of Bibi. Somehow, if he’s overthrown corruption will disappear. Dumping the bad guys will save the nation and restore its values.
Actually, I don’t think people really believe that. They know that even if they get rid of Bibi, there are scores more politicians lining up for their turn at the trough. Every prime minister in recent memory, Labor or Likud, has either been convicted of corruption or accused of serious criminal offenses. The protesters are smart enough, or cynical enough, to realize that getting rid of one bandit won’t change the system. And that they’re unwilling to do. Either unwilling or unable to conceive of a system other than the flawed one they have.
As with the social justice movement of 2011, democracy is widely construed as democracy for Jews. Palestinians are an afterthought. There are those on the left waving placards calling for equal rights for all citizens. But that’s not why the average Israeli (Jew) attends. There are very few Israeli Palestinians attending the nightly vigils. For them, it matters little whether Bibi is the boss or Gantz or any other rival for power. They all mean virtually the same as far as Palestinians are concerned.
A brief example will suffice: this week, the secret police (Shabak) ordered the arrest of Mahmoud Nawajaa, the West Bank coordinator for the BDS movement. An IDF patrol broke into his home in the dead of night and hauled him away. His 7-year-old boy shouted at the brazen thugs as they hauled his dad away: “We’re not afraid of you!”
Not a single Israeli media outlet has covered the story. Not even the so-called liberal ones like 972 Magazine or Haaretz. I thought perhaps there might be a police gag order prohibiting reporting on the arrest. But there is none. When I tweeted to Aluf Benn several times asking why there was no coverage in his paper, he did not reply. Israeli Jews are too busy worrying about Covid19 and Bibi’s latest assault on decency to care about Palestinians. Which offers yet another reason why the system stinks.
A judge has dutifully extended Nawajaa’s remand for two weeks during which he will not have access to his lawyer and be subject to violent interrogations. Nawajaa’s arrest is part of the delegitimization campaign waged by the apartheid state against humanitarian relief organizations. BDS is a special case that has been treated as an existential threat to the state. A minister even called for the “targeted civil assassination” of BDS leader Omar Barghouti.
So as the Shabak beats Nawajaa in his prison cell, they will claim that he is a crook, that he misappropriated funds, that he supported terrorists. They’ll do anything to smear the reputation of this non-violent movement which offers the clearest path for genuine transformation of Israeli society. BDS’s call for Palestinian Right of Return and full, equal rights for Palestinian citizens terrifies the secret police. They know that if BDS succeeds, they will be out of jobs. And that those they jailed and beat in prison will be among those running this transformed country.
Returning to the current protests, while the aim of ending Netanyahu’s rule is laudable, I fear that it will mean little in the overall scheme of things. Grifters gonna grift.