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Red Rag Weekly Column
By: Gideon Spiro
15 August 2011 (English translation 20 August)

Do the people know they want socialism?

The central slogan in the wave of social protest that has swept over Israel for a month now is �The people want social justice.� Some of the demands embodied in that slogan have been outlined by protest spokespersons in various rallies: construction of subsidized rental housing by the government; a reliable public health care system that is equally accessible to all citizens; improvement of the public education system including the reduction of class sizes; job security and the elimination of the employment agencies that hire people under conditions that verge on slavery; a living wage; the elimination of the unacceptable gap between the rich and the poor; elimination of the monopolies and reduction of the prices of products that are more expensive in Israel than in Europe; reduction of the indirect taxes that mainly affect the lower and middle classes and increasing direct taxes on corporations and on high-income individuals who earn hundreds of thousands if not millions of shekels a month. And there is more.

What all these demands have in common is State involvement and control in economic life at the expense of what is called �free enterprise�, which has proved that it enriches the few and impoverishes the many. In other words, social justice means more socialism and less capitalism. The leaders of the protest are certainly aware of this, but they are careful not to mention it. Among the hundreds of thousands who have yelled �social justice!� until their voices are hoarse are more than a few who vote for the Likud and Lieberman, and for whom the word �socialism� symbolizes the gloomy Soviet legacy and the hated Left. They want a leftist ideology without a Left. Democratic socialism? Many have never heard of the concept.

At this stage the protest enjoys widespread public support. Most of the media support it. Public-opinion surveys show support of nearly 90 percent. The reason is found in the protest movement�s other slogan: �non-political� � an expression of revulsion at the parties and the politicians. They will yet learn that there is no such animal as �non-political protest.� Meanwhile, the �non-political� finds expression, among other ways, in refraining from discussing certain issues that are fundamental in the State of Israel: the Occupation, the settlements, the army and the relationship between religion and state. How much longer can the leaders of the protest refrain from stating that there cannot be social justice for Jews only, that there is no social justice with the Occupation, with the settlements, with racism and discrimination against Arab citizens? The Occupation swallows billions from the State�s budget, as do the army and the subsidies to the religious and the Haredi [1] sectors of the population. Whoever wants a fundamental change of values, a change in the order of priorities and not only cosmetic adjustments, cannot avoid dealing with these issues in the long run.

This is the trap into which is the protest may fall: popularity at the expense of avoiding the controversial issues. And this trap is also a reflection of the strength of the settlers. The settler leadership is watching the protest with a suspicious eye. They understand its left-wing potential, and they are holding a loaded pistol. The moment they detect in the protest any sign of a position that is left-wing in the political domain, or a proposal to reduce the expenses of the Occupation in favour of health care and education, a McCarthyist campaign of delegitimization will begin along the lines of �the leftists are upon you, O Israel!� They will shout from every rooftop that the protest is led by anti-Zionist leftists who are enemies of the State, lovers of Arabs and haters of religious Jews, and when that happens, some of the protest supporters � how many, it is hard to predict � will drop out and go over to the other side. More than a few right-wing journalists in the mass media will cooperate with the settlers and the right-wingers in the Knesset.
The economy, the tycoons, and the Occupation are inextricably intertwined, nearly twins. The culture of theft and plunder from the Palestinian people that is at the base of the Occupation also penetrates to within the Green Line. [2] A regime that permits theft, plunder and robbery of the Palestinian people and their lands will end up permitting the tycoons to rob the assets of the Israeli people as well. When apartment-dwellers from the distressed class have difficulty making the mortgage payments, they are evicted from the apartments with their families and the apartments are turned over to the bank. When a tycoon gets into trouble, the bank comes to him and forgives part of his debt. Citizens who bought bonds from him are out of luck. The tycoon is not evicted from his palace and his standard of living is not compromised. This immoral brutality operates on both sides of the Green Line. This lesson must be transmitted to the public, maybe in small parts, to make it easier to digest.

Among other things, the protest has engendered saccharine sayings along the lines of `We are one people, no Left and no Right.` In that spirit, the author David Grossman wrote in the high-circulation newspaper Yediot Aharonot about the opportunity that has been created for mutual identification between different parts of the Israeli public, including the Left and the Right. He hopes that the Left has abandoned its apathy and will exhibit `empathy towards the settlers who were uprooted from Gush Katif , the open wound of the settlers.` (Grossman, 5 August 2011)

Social and mutual solidarity are noble principles, but not at any price and not with everyone. A person of the Left cannot be solidaric with racists, neo-Nazis, oppressors of other peoples, warmongers, arms-dealers, tycoons who made their fortunes by robbing their people, robbers of the lands of neighbouring peoples, and other such types. I never felt solidarity with the Gaza settlers who built their villas on land they had stolen from the Palestinians, and who exploited Palestinian labour under shameful conditions and stole Gaza`s water from its residents. They had to be expelled (not as a unilateral act without an agreement with the Palestinians, as Sharon did) and there was no need to shower billions of shekels on them. My solidarity is also with the poor of Gaza who have suffered and continue to suffer from the Israeli Occupation and the Hamas regime. A leftist`s solidarity transcends national and geographic borders. Whoever wants to see an example of that is invited to visit the Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations at Yad Vashem. [3]

In Israel there is no avoiding the idolatrous worship of the army. Dan Shilon, a television broadcaster and journalist who enjoys an elevated status in the Israeli communications media, publishes a column on the opinion page of the newspaper< i>Maariv. In his column of 14 August he called upon Daphne Leef, the initiator of the protest, to withdraw from the leadership of the protest because she had not served in the army. By my lights, non-service in the army is an asset under today`s circumstances. Daphne was excused from military service for medical reasons, so she is acceptable on the terms of the Establishment. But there will always be cheap patriots who will attack people all their lives because they did not serve the killing-and-murder machine.
The strength and scope of the protest has been impressive so far. I hope that it will exhibit a moral stance on issues that it has refrained from mentioning up to now, even at the expense of conflict with supporters of the Occupation. Because any social justice worthy of the name cannot be for Jews alone.

Hiroshima Day

The sixth of August is the date on which the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. In Israel a modest protest vigil is held every year on that date against nuclear weapons. As a member of the Committee for a Middle East Free of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons, I am one of those who participate in the vigil. This year conditions were against us. On 6 August the social protest movement held a demonstration of 300,000 people, apparently the biggest demonstration in the history of the State of Israel. Who would notice a few demonstrators against nuclear weapons, eccentrics in the eyes of many, in a state in which there is a cult of weapons of mass destruction? So what to do? Go to the demonstration of 300,000, and wear anti-nuclear weapons t-shirts. That is what I did, as you can see in the picture below. (Photo: Gilad Bar Shalev)

Translator�s notes

1. Haredi � pl. Haredim: ultra-Orthodox Jews � the most religious segment of the Jewish population. Identifiable by the beards and black suits and broad-brimmed hats worn by the men.

2. The border between the Occupied Territories and pre-1967 Israel. Normally not shown on Israeli maps.

3. Yad Vashem is Israel`s official Holocaust memorial and museum and institute.

Translated from Hebrew for Occupation Magazine by George Malent
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