Social Justice Protests in Israel


by Stephen Lendman
Last summer, Israelis protested for weeks for social justice. Hundreds of thousands rallied throughout the country.
Hoped for change never came. Netanyahu made promises he never kept. Public anger again erupted. On May 12, Haaretz headlined “Israelis take to the streets in renewed social justice protests,” saying:
Thousands rallied in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Others did nationwide under the banner “Returning the country to the citizens.”
People chanted:
“We want justice, not charity.”
“Taking from the poor, giving to the rich, what a country of corruption.”
Organizer Orli Barlev said:
“The message is one against the political system that does not count the citizens. What we saw this week were moves that resulted from personal interests of power and control. This government has greatly deepened social gaps.”
Barlev meant the Likud/Kadima unity deal. Party heads Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz became coalition partners. Doing so more deeply corrupted Israeli politics. Democratic values sustained another body blow.
Growing social and economic inequality affects most Israelis. Since the 1980s, policies disproportionately favored the rich. Social benefits keep eroding. Wealth disparity gaps widen. Unemployment and poverty grow. So do increasing hunger and homelessness.
Israelis face similar race to the bottom issues as Western societies. At issue is neoliberal harshness. Only elitist interests matter. Wealth and power are prioritized over human need.
People finally react and say no more. Grievances they want addressed include:
(1) Unaffordable housing. It includes intolerable burden of being priced out of a place to live.
(2) High food and energy prices.
(3) Low wages and eroding social benefits.
(4) Onerous taxes on working households.
(5) Education and healthcare increasingly dependent on the ability to pay.
(6) Weak labor rights.
(7) Construction funding disproportionately allocated for settlement development. Affordable housing in Israel is disappearing.
(8) The high cost of raising children. Along with overpriced housing, it’s the most common complaint raised.
Instead of addressing these issues responsibly, Israeli officials ignore them. Dominant party leaders speak with one voice. Only privilege matters. Most Israelis increasingly are on their own, sink or swim.
As a result, they’re struggling for social justice. They’re back for what’s long been denied. Like European and US cops, Israeli ones confront them violently. Haaretz explained in several feature articles.
On June 23, it headlined “Police violence against Tel Aviv protesters should raise the alarm with Israel’s authorities,” saying:
On June 22, police brutalized protest leader Daphni Leef. They dragged her out of a group of peaceful demonstrators violently. They threw her to the ground. To no avail, she tried to protect herself from repeated blows. She sustained injuries, including a broken arm.
“The horrific sight lasted for many minutes.” Leef was then “forcefully taken to a nearby police vehicle. No one should ever ignore or repress” images of what happened.
“The brutality” against her and others “was not only direct, it was public and unabashed.”
It signaled long, hot summer weeks ahead. Orders from the top assure it.
On June 23, Haaretz headlined “Israeli Police deploy large forces in central Tel Aviv as protesters gather for mass rally,” saying:
Large police contingents gathered in central Tel Aviv. Social justice activists prepared to march in protest of Friday’s arrests. “(E)xcessive force” confronted Leef and others. A dozen or more arrests were made.
Under the banner “Emergency protest! Returning the power to the people,” activists headed for Rothschild Blvd. Rallies, marches, and tent cities were prominent there last summer.
This year, license permission wasn’t requested. Dozens of protesters carried tents to erect. Municipal inspectors and police confronted them.
Democratic rights were denied. Police called their actions illegal. Demonstrators rejected unjust demands. Each side faced off against the other. Cops do it violently. Expect worse ahead.
On June 23, Haaretz headlined “Thousands of Israeli protesters block streets in Tel Aviv, clash with police,” saying:
Saturday night, police arrested dozens. They gathered peacefully to protest Leef’s treatment. They blocked Ibn Gabirol Street north to Rabin Square.
They impeded Ayalon highway traffic. Police removed them violently. They blamed protesters for their own brutality. They called legitimate public gatherings illegal and unlicensed.
Free societies don’t require permit permission to speak and assemble publicly. Israel’s a rogue state. Democratic rights are illusory. Jews face police harshness like Arabs.
Activist Barak Cohen said cops injured him. “We came to” confront them, he said. “You’re fighting for your life and you have to fight them without fear. They can carry out arrests and close off streets, but they can’t affect the choices we make in our souls.”
Sunny Arazi added:
“Yesterday the police did everything to stop the protest, and it worked. The south is on fire, and if this demonstration succeeds, the firing in the south will continue. They’ll do everything possible to disrupt the protest.”
On June 24, Haaretz headlined “Violence sponsored by the state,” saying:
“We can only hope that the attempt to forcibly silence the social protest won’t succeed. But the police’s illegitimate action reveals system-wide contempt for the foundations of Israeli democracy.”
“The inability to come to terms with legitimate protest is another worrisome stage in the government’s disparaging approach to protecting democratic society.”
Weak-kneed apologies after the fact don’t matter. Conveying messages like “don’t cross the line” aren’t legitimate. Summoning activists to police stations for information on planned protests reflects actions free societies won’t tolerate.
Activist leader Idan Pink said:
“We’re here for the same reasons as last summer. Nothing has changed. We want justice. We can out here to get something and we won’t leave until we get it.”
A June 25 Haaretz editorial headlined “Putting the protest at risk,” saying:
Confronting police nonviolently is essential. Otherwise legitimacy may be lost. Staying calm isn’t easy when police act like thugs.
Over the weekend, they “acted violently.” So did some protesters in response.
It’s not clear if activists or police provocateurs were responsible. It wouldn’t be the first or last time state-sponsored thuggery blamed victims unjustly.
People demonstrated against excessive force, arrests and injuries. They’re entitled to confront them forthrightly. Free societies don’t commit them. Democratic rights are inviolable.
Police “must immediately change (their) outlook and behavior toward legitimate acts of protest. And the protest leaders must call on their followers to eschew violence, despite the unacceptable” official conduct.
Haaretz contributor Gideon Levy said “Israelis must put a stop to the political police,” saying:
State-sponsored violence reflects disturbing police state practices. “Something very bad” is happening. Once loved police are now hated. Once temperate, they’re now violent.
They’ve also become political. Confronting protesters violently and making outrageous demands is intolerable.
Police are bullies. They’re “go(ing) after one little tent on Rothschild” Blvd instead of recognizing the right of free expression and peaceful assembly.
They attacked people “full force.” At some demonstrations, more cops showed up than protesters. “Why on earth do they need a helicopter and hundreds of officers on the roofs for a few hundred citizens, marching in formation?”
“True, this is Israel, where violence is the native language, the DNA of the security forces. But that is not the only reason for the police’s lack of proportion.”
Confronting protesters isn’t for security. It’s about prioritizing elite interests. It’s to sacrifice ordinary people on the alter of wealth and power.
“Legitimate, nonviolent political protest is being suppressed with illegitimate, political police violence. There is no other way to describe it: We have a political police force that is making political arrests.”
Protesters have two issues to address. They include achieving long denied social justice and confronting intolerable police brutality responsibly.
Activist struggles aren’t easy, straightforward, or painless. Expect long hot summer weeks ahead.

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