For the last few weeks I have been in British Columbia, mostly at my parents cottage on East Barriere lake. As a result, I’ve been less attentive than I would like towards the protest movements which are happening in Israel, and seem to be growing. From what I’ve read in the mainstream press, the movement seems focused on economic, rather than political issues (which is always a dubious distinction). From some Israeli activists that I follow on twitter, I know that there is an aspect of the movement which desires to politicize the protests, and link economic with cultural and racial discrimination.
During my time in Palestine one thing I learned strongly was that divisions in Israeli society run deep. Divisions between Jews and Arabs are significant, but that is well known outside. What remains less well known are divisions between religious and secular zionists, which roughly correlates with the old schism between political and revisionist zionism, the split between the Hagannah and the Irgun, the rivalry between Ben Gurion and Manachem Begin. The current protest movements are to some extent falling along this rivalry line – between Israelis who see the increasing wealth gap as a problem and for whom life has become very expensive, and those benefit from Israel’s huge subsidization of the illegal West Bank settlements.
The current government government in Israel is right wing, which means it is roughly aligned with the remnants of revisionism, and heavily supports the extremist settler movements. In fact, they have used the demand for more affordable housing which is being made mostly by secular jews in the tel-aviv as an excuse to approve hundreds (somewhere near to 2000 actually) of new settlement houses East of the green line. The expansion of settlements, such as expanding Har Homa towards Gilo threaten the viability of the two state settlement, which is considered by many to be inviable without the a viable East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state.
The protests are not simply one thing, however, which is obvious to me via twitter where I receive updates from many Israeli activists who are taking part in the protests. There is a Jewish-Arab solidarity tent in Haifa, and I’ve heard from a 48 Palestinian (sometimes called “Arab Israeli”) that a right wing Jew said to her face that they should “kill all Arabs”, obviously not recognizing that this racist was in fact talking to an Arab at the time!
There are also deep racial (or racializing) divisions within Jewish-Israeli society. While these terms are not used in ways that are historically correct, “Ashkenazi” Jews sometimes represent themselves as superior to “Sephardi” or “Mizrahi” Jews. Students in the illegal west bank settlement recently protested by boycotting their school against the policy of segregation between Sephardi and Ashkenazi students. A parent of one student was quoted in support of the policy of segregation: “It’s like putting Americans and Africans together. They can’t study together with such huge mental differences”. I am not aware what role Jewish racial discrimination is playing in the current protest movement, but as recently as June “tens of thousands” of ultra-Orthodox Jews rallied against a court ruling against segregation, so that community is mobilized and could easily play a role if it sees an opportunity to gain something, or a need to defend its position.
I may be making things too complex by bandying all these terms around for categories you might not have known existed. In short – there is a division in Israeli society between those who do the work of occupying the West Bank, and those who most forcefully support its occupation and demand its annexation. Secular Israeli Jews who live in the state of Israel can not easily avoid army service, and army service means armed support of the occupation – and if you are in a combat unit (and most are), this means putting your life on the line for your state’s foreign policy. Highly religious Jews, on the other hand, can easily avoid military service, and often don’t work or work very little because they live in heavily subsidized housing. So, when you see religious Jews coming from the West Bank to Tel-Aviv to call the protestors there “anarchists”, you might recognize their position as quite hypocritical.
But really, I know very little about the whole situation in the state of Israel right now.