Monday, August 29, 2011

Do the people really demand Social Justice? My two cents worth on the Protest Movement.

(Author's note: I have been too scared to post this for quite a while now, because it seems I am so against the popular tide, but nevertheless...)

Israel is awash with protest fever. This summer has seen the usual political, diplomatic and military engagements which usually stifle any internal political debate about economic policy. We have terror attacks, rockets in the south, possible Palestinian independence and yet, through it all, a vibrant protest movement, united under the banner of "העם דורש צדק חברתי" - "The people demand social justice" has managed to capture the imagination and support of the nation. This is laudable. I lend my voice to the protests. They should be supported - they should get exactly what they are asking for from the government. So what is that exactly?

For me, if the protests were truly about Social Justice, they would be calling for economic relief for the poorest and most disenfranchised of Israeli society. Do I hear these calls? Do I see any Arab leaders talking about the ingrained prejudice of society that stops Israeli Arabs being able to earn a decent living in this country? No. What about Israel's other huge sector that represents a large section of the poorest echelons of society - the Haredim? Have we heard from them? No. In fact, the organisers of the protest make no attempt to disguise the fact that this is a middle class protest. The justice being asked for, is not one that would eliminate poverty or create equality - it is simply that people who work for a living want to be able to enjoy a better standard of living. It's all about relieving the heavy economic burden - and you know what - I 100% support this aim. I agree that the middle classes of Israel should be able to reach the end of the month without going into debt, but this brings me to my main problem with the protests - what would do this? What suggestions are being proposed?

Stopping investing money in the settlements from the national budget? Protest leaders haven't proposed that. Stopping supporting the Hareidi private education system which doesn't teach the national curriculum from the public budget? They haven't proposed that. Enforce army conscription for all, so that the people who do reserve duty can do it for less time, spend more time with their families, need less (very expensive) childcare and invest more in their careers? No - they haven't suggested that. What are they suggesting? Less VAT and more direct tax for the super wealthy. And they think that will make a huge difference????????

It is clear to see why the protesters have not yet laid out a clear plan for any actual change - doing so would endanger the huge broad coalition of students, civil servants, teachers, the lower middle class, the upper middle class, basically everyone outside of the uber-wealthy and the government who support the protests. But that's the point - when you don't really say anything, beyond a catchy slogan or two, everyone can agree with you. These protests are great for getting people on the street - but do they have any content?

For a long long time, one political party, Meretz, has consistently articulated a socio-economic agenda for this country that would actually achieve what the protesters want. They have become so irrelevant and obsolete that they will probably fall out of the Knesset at the next elections. Virtually none of the protesters or their leaders will vote for them. Most will vote for the same parties that have created the current financial situation. Why? Because the protests have not changed the political reality of Israel. People will still vote on the issue of peace and security - without stopping to think whether the issues might even be connected.

Israel is awash with protest fever - but do not be fooled. These protests will mean little until they really do start demanding social justice, and not just cheaper cottage cheese.

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