Mondoweiss Online Newsletter


Israel’s ‘social justice revolution’ extends to illegal mega-settlement of Ariel

Aug 14, 2011

Max Blumenthal

Many observers of the massive July 14 “social justice revolution” sweeping through Israel have been wondering when the protest movement would deal directly with the occupation of Palestine, or whether it would it all. On August 14, a month after the demonstrations began, the movement finally tackled the situation across the Green Line. But instead of connecting the concept of social justice to the rights of everyone living under Israeli control, July 14 officially endorsed (website is in Hebrew) a tent protest for “social justice” in the illegal West Bank mega-settlement of Ariel.

There is a lot to say about this move, but I will keep it brief for now: By officially ignoring the occupation, the July 14 movement is behaving as though the two state solution is a current fact on the ground — they are living in a walled-off fantasy world. And by embracing Ariel, July 14 has tacitly proclaimed its support for keeping and subsidizing the main settlement blocs.

All Israeli kindergarteners are required to sing the national anthem– except for ‘Arab sector’ children

Aug 14, 2011

David Samel

According to a July Haaretz article, Israeli education authorities have implemented a new rule that kindergarten teachers must have their classes sing the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, every week. This generated some debate in Israel about forced patriotism that poses an interesting contrast with the US, where for many decades, classrooms have included dailyrecitals of patriotic songs and/or the Pledge of Allegiance. There was little or no attention to the uncontroversial exception made for the “Arab sector.”

According to the Education Ministry, the directives will not be implemented in the Arab sector….The ultimate goals of the plan are to strengthen the pupils’ Jewish and Zionist values, and to improve their scholastic achievements.

On its face, this makes perfect sense. The Hatikvah speaks of the yearning of the Jewish soul for return to and control over Zion. It would be incongruous and even cruel to compel non-Jewish youngsters to mouth such words sanctifying the spirit of their Jewish neighbors above their own, especially where that Jewish yearning is to control the land on which Palestinians have lived for many centuries.

Surely it would be appalling to prescribe this weekly dose of glorification of Jewish nationhood for those who cannot share in its meaning. But is it any less appalling that Palestinian children are unable to share in the national anthem of their own country? These children, like several generations before them, are destined to live their entire lives as citizens of a state dedicated to the aspirations of another people, a group from which they are excluded. It’s not just the ritual song-singing; the Hatikvah is the perfect national anthem, embodying the entire noble mythology of the state, from centuries of yearning for Zion to the 20th century realization of the dream.

Among all the indignities faced by non-Jewish citizens in Israel, the inability of their children to partake in this dubious “patriotic” exercise surely does not rank near the top. Nevertheless, it is the perfect symbol of the irreconcilable conflict between the “Jewish State” and the fundamental principle of equality for all citizens that is considered inviolable in every other national context.

Some Zionists simply deny the undeniable. Israel is a “Jewish State” that provides absolute equality for Jews and non-Jews. Even Israel’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence of 1948, guarantees “full and equal citizenship” to Arab citizens. Where’s the contradiction? Others acknowledge that Jewish citizens are “more equal than others,” to paraphrase Orwell, but insist that it is natural to bestow greater rights on Jewish citizens of a Jewish State. Those “Arabs” who don’t like it have 22 other Arab states they can move to.

Then there are the liberal Zionists, people like Peter Beinart and Jerome Slater, who regret having to adopt this singular exception to their liberal principles favoring equality for all, regardless of ancestry. I see no reason to question their sincerity, or their hope that the inevitable inequalities between Jews and non-Jews can be minimized, despite Israel’s failure to do so for 63 years and its current freight-train movement in the wrong direction. But even if liberal Zionists can justify, in this one instance, a state favoring some citizens over others based upon characteristics of birth, can they imagine any circumstances in which the victims of such inequality would accept inferior status as their unfortunate lot in life? Who among us would agree to live under such circumstances? Is it not unseemly to reluctantly accept privileges for one’s own ethnic group?

This kindergarten problem will remain as long as Israel remains a “Jewish State,” even if Israel’s military occupation over millions of Palestinian non-citizens ended tomorrow and a real Palestinian State emerged. Of course, the real debate there involves the question of precisely how many nails Israel has hammered into the coffin of the two-state solution. Israel’s Palestinian citizenry will continue to be a tolerated (some times more than others) minority living as a permanent underclass in a foreign country, even though their own roots to the land go back many centuries. Israel’s non-Jewish citizens will be outsiders, and their children will know it from an early age, whenever they hear their Jewish counterparts sing the national anthem that they cannot share.


What to make of the Israeli movement for social justice

Aug 14, 2011

Jerome Slater

It is very hard for an outsider to know what to make of the current wave of populist protest in Israel which, though advocating “social justice” in Israel has nothing to say about the occupation and repression of the Palestinians.

Over 300,000 people have come out into the streets in support of the goals of the movement, which were initially motivated by the unavailability or unaffordability of adequate housing but which have broadened to include the crippling overall cost of living, the growing inequality of wealth within Israeli society, and what the Israeli journalist Dimi Reider has described as “the parenting costs, the free-fall in the quality of public education, the overworked, unsustainable healthcare system, the complete and utter detachment of most politicians, on most levels, from most of the nation.”

Remarkably, polls show that up to 90% of the Israeli general public support the demands for economic reform, including many working-class hardline nationalists and Likud activists. In its broadest form, as the Israeli activist Jeff Halper writes, “the demonstrations currently roiling Israel constitute a grassroots challenge to Israel’s neo-liberal regime. Beginning as an uprising of the middle classes….it has spread to the working class, the poor and the Arab communities as well.”

Last Monday the leaders of the protest movement, as well as student leaders and representatives of various social organizations, issued a joint statement setting forth the movement’s goals in more detail. “For a number of decades, the various governments of Israel have opted for an economic policy of privatization that leaves the free market without reins…making our daily existence a war for survival to subsist with dignity,” the document begins. It goes on to demand that social inequalities be minimized; that the cost of living be lowered; that full employment be achieved; that action be taken to meet “the essential needs of the weaker population in the country, with an emphasis on the handicapped, the elderly and the sick;” and that the state invest in public education, health, transportation, and public infrastructures.

A most admirable set of demands. Indeed, they could be transplanted to this country with very few modifications—which is not at all surprising, since the triumph of the right in Israel and its Likudist “neo-liberal” economics is closely modeled on the greed-is-good and the devil-take-the-hindmost raw plutocracy of the Republican party hereabouts.

The problem is that the leaders of the protest movement have made a conscious decision not to include the demand that the occupation and repression of the Palestinians be brought to an end; indeed, even the demand that the various forms of discrimination against the Arab citizens of Israel be ended has the potential to badly split the movement. As the Haaretz columnist Akiva Eldar has recently caustically observed: “social justice, and justice in general, ends for a considerable number of the demonstrators at the outskirts of Umm al-Fahm [the largest Israeli Arab city]. Never mind the gates of Nablus.”

As might be expected, the decision to focus only on social justice for Israelis rather than on justice for the Palestinians has caused some division within the Israeli left, as illustrated by the contrasting positions taken by two of Israel’s most astute, outspoken, and morally admirable young analysts and journalists, Dimi Reider and Joseph Dana. Reider has made a powerful case:

“It should be admitted…that the Israeli left has utterly and abjectly failed to [persuade] Israelis in the project of ending the occupation. There was never a choice between a social struggle focused on the occupation and a social struggle temporarily putting the conflict aside, because the first attempt would have flopped. There was nothing to be gained by trying the same thing again for the Nth time.”

Dana concedes that “The sad reality is that if Israelis discuss Palestinian rights and specifically the rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation they very quickly lose public support.…Had protesters connected their struggle for social justice to the occupation, many fewer Israelis would have joined the protests.” Even so, he is very uneasy about the strategy chosen by the protest leaders: “The protesters’ working definition of ‘social justice’ is unclear and full of contradictions. The rights of Israelis are inextricably tied with the rights of Palestinians, both inside the 1967 borders and in the Occupied Territories. The protesters, like most of Israeli society, are operating under the assumption that they are disconnected from the Palestinians who live under Israeli military occupation. But the fact is that one regime rules the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and any discussion of the allocation of resources, not to mention social justice, must take into account the rights of everyone who lives under the regime.”

The moral as well as practical dilemma for the Israeli left is acute. Many of Israel’s bravest and most admirable opponents of the occupation—people like Halper, Bernie Avishai, Gideon Levy, Yitzhak Laor, and others—are enthusiastic about the protest movement. Others, like Akiva Eldar, Amira Hass, and Uri Avnery, while of course strongly supporting the social justice goals, are uneasy about the decision to exclude the occupation or skeptical about the likely outcome. For example, Hass writes: “In the coming months, as the movement grows, it will split. Some will continue to think and demand ‘justice’ within the borders of one nation, always at the expense of the other nation that lives in this land. Others, however, will understand that this will never be a country of justice and welfare if it is not a state of all its citizens.”

In light of divisions within the Israeli left and the persuasive arguments on both sides of the debate, an outsider is in no position to reach a confident assessment about the issue. Yet, I can’t help feeling uncomfortable about the current strategy of the protest leaders. First, there is an important difference between the social justice protests and the last mass protests in Israel, which were over Israel’s complicity in the 1982 Sabra and Shatilla massacres in Lebanon. The latter was unambiguously driven by moral considerations; the former, while certainly containing a moral component, is also driven simply by economic self-interest, especially since it has become a populist movement linking the Israeli right with the left. For that reason, there is little reason to be hopeful that the movement signals a moral transformation of Israeli society.

Social injustice in Israel is inextricably linked to the occupation. In the first instance, as a number of the protest leaders and their supporters have pointed out, the enormous public resources devoted to the settlements and the armed forces necessary to protect them are resources that are not available for the rest of society. Even more fundamentally, the occupation and repression of the Palestinians is so morally poisonous that it is impossible to imagine that a truly just society can be created –even if only for the Jews themselves—until it has ended.

This is a crosspost from Jerome Slater’s blog.


WASP society is disintegrating

Aug 14, 2011

Philip Weiss

Last weekend we had a houseguest, a member of my wife’s extended family in Philadelphia, and when we were sitting in the kitchen one morning he said, What happened to the WASPs? I asked him what he meant, and he said the following:

The WASPs ran the country for 3 or 4 centuries, but I am not talking about power, I’m talking about society. Society is really all that matters, and WASPs had a cohesive society. Now that is gone, and over. And in fact some of the things I see today inside what is left of that society are pathetic and sad. Young people with nothing to do, no path for them. So the drugs and the idleness– I think it’s all part of the end of that world.

Do you grieve for its passing? I asked.

No, he said. Things change. Orders change all the time. It’s the nature of society. And besides, we had a good run.

I told him about a man I know whose male forbears, for three generations, had been English professors. Then the rules changed for academic advancement, the meritocracy came in, my friend was completely intimidated by that new way, and he absented himself. He has frittered his life away, but the thing is, when you go over to his house, he can quote Shakespeare as well as anyone, and explain the meaning of the book of Genesis. He’s a scholar, but in drydock.

My wife’s relation nodded and said he saw it at a granular level. WASP society was built of many things, it was an entire fabric, like any society. There were neighborhoods, there were stores, and schools and clubs and churches and retreats. Everyone knew everyone, and kept up on the gossip. There was a set of distinct values that you could count on everyone having. And money was at the bottom of it; the trusts were at the bottom of it. The trusts kept families together and kept people coming back to their communities. Now even the trusts are dwindling. Many of them are used up. And that has helped to dissipate WASP society. There is nothing to come back to. And so the communities themselves are drying up and frittering away. The associations and values are breaking up.

Of course intermarriage has something to do with it. The clubs and retreats are still there, but they are not nearly so distinct any more. Not just ethnically. But the values and manners, and understandings, they are disappearing. And at the heart of it is an economic collapse.

I said, You do seem to grieve it a little.

I do, he said. It’s a world that is over. And there were many great things that came out of it. The founding fathers, the Constitution. The character of American society. But of course in the last few generations it was built around the military industrial complex. That really was the source of all the money. And the Vietnam War came out of that.

Then I told my wife’s relation my own theory of the Jewish rise. Much of the 60s rebellion had a political character, but some of it was social, too, against the WASP elite. At Columbia during the 60s rebellion, the students had researched their professors to find out how much of their income came out of the defense contractors. And a lot of those rebellious students were Jewish, their parents ran candy stores or other small businesses, and as SDS leader Mark Rudd said a few years ago, (in this piece on Why there were so many Jews in the SDS) the administration offices at Columbia were “dripping with goyishness.” So there was a social component to that too, it wasn’t just about power.

I wonder when people will begin to describe the new elite. We shy away from doing so because it engages issues of anti-semitism, but if you think of that self-contained WASP society, the only thing to contend with it, in term of social cohesion, is affluent Jewish society, the Jewish mandarins of New York and Washington. No one has given us a name– the media industrial complext? Writers like David Brooks avoid the subject because it would involve talking about the Israel lobby.

But I can tell you from my own life’s arc, from Harvard and New York media/politics, that my Jewish world has the cohesion that my friend remembers about that self-contained WASP society. We have geography and manners (liberal voting, the Hamptons, Paul Krugman’s latest column, Tom Friedman, the Upper West Side, brunches and book clubs), we have a politics (abortion rights, gay rights, Elena Kagan writ large), we have culture (I could go on and on), and yes we have money (hedge funds). And a war under our belt too.

Why do tent protesters ban the word ‘occupation’?

Aug 14, 2011

Philip Weiss

Alon Idan in Haaretz:

Why does the protest movement ban the word “occupation”? Because using that word would dramatically reduce the number of protesters; it would stir disagreement and splinter the movement. Such factionalism would turn the protest into a “political” entity and expunge its populist character.

The occupation… is not mentioned in the tent camps because it threatens to eclipse the protest. This ongoing paradox spells its ultimate demise.


Hen of the woods?

Aug 14, 2011

Philip Weiss

I’ve become a forager recently. My sister-in-law says that this is now a trend, so I’m only conventional, but three times in the last few weeks I’ve eaten mushrooms harvested by friends from New York forests. And I’ve started to keep my eye open. Yesterday I saw this chap in the woods near me– it’s12 inches across, and that’s dead oak– and went to get a picture of it this morning. A foraging friend, whom I emailed a verbal description last night, said it was likely sulfur shelf or hen-of-the-woods. And yes, that looks right. But I’d like to be sure, mincing garlic here.


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