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Arab Spring meets Jewish Summer

The rhythmic Hebrew slogans used at many of the protests are strikingly similar to punchy Arabic lines that have reverberated throughout the Middle East since January: "Ha'am doresh / tzedek chevrati" ["The people demand social justice"], one observer noted.

On Saturday night, more than 150,000 people – out of a population of seven million – gathered in 12 cities across Israel as part of the biggest social movement the country has witnessed.

Small-scale actions that started with tents being pitched in Tel Aviv and other cities over soaring housing costs have grown into a mass movement against the right-wing Netanyahu government, unemployment, the ruling families who own most of the economy and deep inequality.

Recent demonstrations have included marches against the price of petrol, boycotts of expensive cottage cheese that forced manufacturers to lower prices and lengthy strikes by social workers and doctors over pay and working conditions.

Middle-class Jews and Israeli Palestinians have come together in local encampments in a way that seemed unimaginable only a few weeks ago. And they have shaken the country’s ruling economic and political elites to their core. There were reports that Bedouin tribesmen had joined the marchers in outlying towns. A poll showed that 87% of Israelis support the tent city protests.

In echoes of the movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Spain, many on the march demanded fundamental change. It was a moment when the Arab Spring met the Jewish Summer. One of the placards read: “Mubarak, Assad, Netanyahu!”

Activist Daphni Leef, who initiated the first tent village protest in Tel Aviv against housing prices two weeks ago, told a crowd of 70,000-100,000 Israelis gathered outside the city's main art museum that "we don't want to replace the government, but to do more than that. We want to change the rules of the game".

A steady influx of wealthy diaspora Jews from New York, Miami and Paris who bought up flats in Israel's big cities has driven up prices in many affluent neighbourhoods along the Mediterranean coast in cities such as Tel Aviv and Netanya, in addition to Jerusalem.

Since 2008, the price of an average apartment has gone up by 55%, rent by 27%, far in excess of wage increases.

Many protesters say they do not want to live in the distant suburbs, where rent is cheap but amenities are far. Public transport is notoriously bad in Tel Aviv, where people joke that "the Messiah will arrive before the new light rail is built".

Efraim Davidi, a political scientist at Ben Gurion University, says there is a simple reason why the vast majority of Israelis support the protesters against the government. "The situation of working families is getting worse and worse. It's very difficult to buy an apartment, car, food," says Davidi. "Prices here are like in Europe, but salaries are like those in the Third World."

The Arab Spring is making itself felt in this unlikely context. The regimes being challenged are quite different, but the impulses are similar – corruption, inflation, unemployment, inequality and a failure of the existing political system.

In Israel, the Zionists who dominate a nationalist state founded on a single ethnic group have used the threat of an external “enemy” in the shape of Arab regimes to hold sway over a seemingly pliant population.

The shattering of the Mubarak regime and the heroic uprising by the Syrian people in the face of a murderous assault by the Assad dictatorship has served to loosen the Zionist grip. As the celebrated author David Grossman told the crowd: "The people are loyal to the state, but the state isn't loyal to them."

The idea that the Jewish state represents all Jews equally is being exposed and blown apart and with it will go the raison d’être of the Zionist regime itself. Class rather than ethnic and religious questions are now coming to the fore in Israel, with the nature of capitalist rule on the agenda. A real unity of Jewish and Arab workers in the region, leading to self-determination for the Palestinians, is a greater possibility now than it was before the Arab Spring.

Paul Feldman
Communications editor
1 August 2011

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Jonathan says:

I saw interviews on Al Jazeera – no doubt in Arabic as well – and the speed of development is truly 'unnerving', stirring, stunning.

Linking world matters, developments, together to the source of that which drives them, and how this is reflected in the mind – how we grasp it – can't, surly, be thought of as just something 'new', as in physics when the breakthroughs came from Maxwell up to Einstein: the whole of thinking changed on the 'subject'. Those who couldn't were left floundering – and not just in physics, for its reflection in philosophy, and then in 'political science', i.e. in practice of revolutionary parties can best, maybe as it is central, must be seen in Lenin's work MATERIALISM and EMPIRIO-CRITICISM. Those who didn't grasp it were where the revolution met its gravediggers.

But essential here is to note, it wasn't, as such, modern physics, for that was in turn driven by outside, i.e. objective, social being, by the nature of the developments of human society – within which endeavour is found.

The Palestinians will not 'view' this, it will penetrate to their core, and stir something that challenges everything they are going through and the way they proceed. Gaza particularly will organise as to this. It is not to be seen as anything other than changing us. As such it must be grasped at its source, it is not just a 'political', or 'economic' event. It is driven by changes in the thinking. As is pointed out and outlined above. And is not that a beautiful drawing on, and pointing out the languages.

Me, I am going to 'study' quantity into quality, first on AWTW Welsh rarebit post. Then I might boil some ice. Or go into depth as to this burgeoning awakening. Then look back at what I have become. Essential is the unfolding of events driven by the nature of the crisis, and organising to get all those confronted by the crisis and excluded by the 'shrinking set', and get them into Assemblies to make their contribution: and act.

Getting out of the box is so difficult. But most important, I believe, is to make links, to organise, to prepare. They will not take this lying down, and the speed will cost them as much (in many senses, organisational, presentational: heads rolling, i.e. reorganising) as the event itself. And we must note it will cost us as well, the us is those under attack, for we are not cheerleaders in an away game.

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