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Is There a Chance To Democratize Israel/Palestine?
Lev Grinberg
Berkeley University lecture, Nov. 3, 2011
[Hostile] transcription IAM [thanks anyway]
a video of the lecture at

BGU Lev Luis Grinberg: Is there a chance to democratize Israel without ending the occupation? Is there a chance that the J-14 movement for social justice will embrace justice for Palestinians too?

Is There a Chance To Democratize Israel/Palestine? The Israeli movement for social justice, J-14, was initiated in the quiet summer of 2011, inspired by the Egyptian democratic mobilization in Tahrir Square and the Spanish M-15 movement. Within 52 days, J-14 gained incredible popularity with 85 percent support, according to the polls, and it mobilized a mass demonstration of more than half a million people, with no precedent in Israel. The government recognized its economic policies were inducing inequality and declared new taxation and budget policies aiming to reduce poverty and the social gap. However, the movement never mentioned the military occupation nor the injustices the state caused to the Palestinians.

Is there a chance to democratize Israel without ending the occupation? Is there a chance that the J-14 movement for social justice will embrace justice for Palestinians too? Using the analytical concepts and insights suggested in his book, Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine: Democracy vs. Military Rule, Prof. Lev Luis Grinberg (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel) will analyze the recent political events from a historical perspective.

The lecture was delivered by Grinberg at the University of California, Berkeley, on Nov. 3, 2011

Full text, transcribed by IAM

IAM is not responsible for the poor English

With the fall of Mubarak, there was a debate in Israel. Why canít we have such a movement here? And it is interesting that they ask this question because we didnít have Mubarak. No one thought Netanyahu was a dictator or something like this, but they wanted to be part of this democratization in the Middle East. The first signs of this kind of mobilization started immediately after but some movements was organized on facebook. They started a movement against raising the price of gas, and they succeeded; another movement against raising the price of cottage cheese and they succeeded; and then started the J-14 movement inspired by the Egyptian experience and it started from an encampment of ten tents in the Rothchild Boulevard but it was clear that it was related to Egypt. You see here the tents and the name in Hebrew is Rothchild Corner Tahrir. And this was the idea; we are part of something that is already in action. The incredible impact of this ten tents, I think, is completely without precedent in Israel! Completely without any precedent in Israel! They succeeded to mobilize within a few days more and more people in Rothchild Boulevard but in all over the country! The first demonstration was ten days after that, with 40,000 people in Tel Aviv and with the mobilization there was the expectation that every week there will be another demonstration. They started from one demonstration in Tel Aviv but it expanded to demonstrations all over the country every Saturday night. My friend joked that if the was no demonstration on Saturday he would ask his son `what was happening,`?

It was a kind of enthusiasm that we can take to the streets together and struggle, but the interesting point is that different groups joined with different agendas. The first demand of the group was related to housing. The price of renting or buying a an apartments was high and they demanded from the government to subsidize the rent. This was the very beginning and later the agenda started to expand to every sphere, education, health, the price of kindergartens, there was a movement of parents with their children; they were all demonstrating there. Trade unions joined in. At the beginning the doctors who were already striking, joined, but subsequently the Histadrut itself, the national student organization, joined the movement and the media, I think that we could say. that the media joined the movement. The media covered every thing they did, every day, all day, every demonstration, with a very sympathizing attitude. And the popular support of the protest was high, 85 percent of the population. The main cry was that `people wanted social justice.` I am sorry that we donít have the Egyptian movie, because it was exactly like the same music and the same tempo. But it became so popular that every one was using this slogan to sell every thing you want.

The very fact that they started to talk about the people! The people, in the case of Israel, you call here, the 99 percent. Itís very clear that it is the same idea. We are the people. But they started to talk about the new Israeli. A new identity for the Israelis based on solidarity and not on individualism of the market. They were demanding a welfare state. This was also one of the slogans. The welfare state is coming. And the government was forced to react. They couldnít ignore it. The support was so broad that almost in every party there were people defending the demonstrations and supporting them, and they formed a committee, a special committee, to change the policies of the government in order to overcome the inequality in Israel, completely the opposite of what Netanyahu was doing for the last 15 years. And the committee suggested, the recommendations were, strong changes in the policy instead of reducing taxes to have higher taxes for the richer, also reducing the security budget, and the government already decided to do it. The movement said it is not sufficient; they want more but I think itís already an achievement. This is only the beginning and they say this is only the beginning and the question is, where are we going to?

The climax was in September 3. This was called the one million march! This is only Tel Aviv! It was all over the country in different places. I donít know if you can see the streets entering were also full, and on this square is the square of the state, itís not the famous Rabin Square! Itís the biggest square in Israel! No one had the courage to go to this square to demonstrate! It was completely full. Before the demonstration, the newspapers argued how many people were required in order to full this square, with some suggesting they need half a million. In my opinion, there was half a million, but the police said there were only 300,000. So, they debated whether there was a half million, itís a peanut, but in Jerusalem, you have 6,000, in Haifa 2,000, I think there were 14 different places where this demonstration took place all over the country.

Something important, September 3, why September 3? They knew in advance that September is a month that you can not demonstrate for social economic issues. September was from the beginning, when the Palestinian movement decided to apply to the United Nations to recognize the Palestinian state, it was clear that September would be a month where all the media would be concerned with Palestinians. So, from the beginning, they said that September 3 would be the one million march! And when they started in July 14, this would be theÖ., so it was clear that they were aware of the fact that there are spaces in time to organize these kind and there are spaces that you can not do nothing.

So letís start. What I want to do, my questions that I want to try to answer is why they are taking Tahrir as a model? Is this a democratization process? Is Israel a democracy or isnít? Why are they ignoring injustice suffered by the Palestinians and their non-democratic situation? If they are claiming justice inside Israel, why are they are not for the Palestinians also? Is there a chance that the July 14 movement will radically transform the Israeli polity? In order to answer these questions, I will use the framework of the theory that I developed on Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine, and also parts of the analysis of what happened in the last twenty years in politics and I decided to use this power point in order to rush, because otherwise if I start talking about the movement, I will not make the point in the more theoretical and macro-historical point that I want to make where we are now and what we can expect of the future.

So, the concept I use is political space. Political space is a critical tool to analyze democratic regimes. The concept is to uncover rules of the game, institutions, discourses, practices, and political actors that close political space to subordinated groups in processes of democratization and in well-established democratic regimes. This is the idea of this critical concept. It is not only to assume that democracy is working; sometimes to close the space for subordinated groups. The political space is symbolic space of recognition and representation of dominated groups, mediation and compromise within different framework of the state. Political spaces can be opened when there are recognized borders and balance of power relations! This is a very crucial point. This is entirely fundamentals of political space. When there are recognized borders, the borders define who are the people? When you say we the people, in the context of the United States, itís very funny, we the people, who are the people then? You define, but when you have borders also, when you have these borders, physical borders, you can claim that you are equal. Its not that you are equal, but you can make the point and the claim that moralize. The balance of power is crucial because every one who can rule without recognizing the other does it.

So, the dominated group needs some power to balance the power of the dominant. When dominated groups effectively assist power by inner society mobilization and political articulation, the rulers have no option but to recognize their legitimate claims. This is a classic process of democratization. The rulers, in some moment, recognize that they cannot continue repression. When dominant groups come to rule by violence, they use it. Violence is the best way to close political spaces. Settler societies have a problem with democracy because settler societies want democracy for themselves but not for the local populations and not also for Africans they bring. They want what has been called heritable democracies. This is the democracy for the civilized peoples. It happened in North America, in South Africa, in Australia, and Israel. But the peculiarity of Israel is it is the only case that still donít recognize the local population! I donít want to demonize Israel. The case of the United States is much worse because they killed and in this instance, the fact that the Palestinians are still there and present, part of them are present, not all of them: this is something that is also peculiar; but [Ö] the problem is that this conflict is still there.

The success of Israel is to divide and rule the Palestinians by force but it maintains its democratic image on rules of the game. This is the peculiarity that still allows the US government to say to the Palestinians negotiate. They assume that this is a democratic government so you need to negotiate. According to my analysis, there is no chance that such negotiations can lead any ways, because there is no balance of power and there are no borders. So whatís created since 67 is what I call a duel regime which is military democratic. The duel regime is a democracy for the Israeli Jews and a peculiar divide and rule for Palestinian Arabs. The Palestinian Arabs are divided into mainly three groups but its more. You have citizens of Israel, the second class citizens of Israel, and the occupied population. It must be clear that the border of Israel, the so-called border of Israel, the green line, before 67, is a border that exists mainly to separate A from B. This border does not make any difference for the Israeli Jew. It makes a difference if you are a Palestinian because if you are second class, you are inside the border, and if you are occupied under the military, this is the West Bank and Gaza. But for sure, the occupied territories are divided between Gaza, that is a very difficult situation compared to the West Bank, and the better situation for the occupied population is in East Jerusalem. So, they are also divided. Therefore, for sure, you have the refugees who are outside.

The military democratic regime closes the political space to these two. In my opinion, this is the most important point to understand. By dividing the workers, you have Palestinian workers without rights and the Israeli workers with rights, and also in periods of violence, when you have violence, no political space for nothing inside Israel too. How all of this regime must have some legitimacy inside Israel? It was legitimized by what I call a cartel, of two tribal identities. Why cartel? Because there was a monopole until 1977, of the left, the so-called left, and it became a cartel of right-left when the tribal identities formed to close political space. What is a tribal identity? Think about United States too. You have two groups that hate each other, like a tribe, and mainly they hate the leader of the tribe of the other, the chief. And there is no space to discuss nothing because everything is mobilized through the identity. And there is no space, for example, to be in the middle or to be in the left of the left or to be in the right of the right. You have two tribes that close completely the political space. I was thinking about the United States. You cannot have a party on the left of the Democratic Party, but imagine you can, and you can also have the Tea Party have their own representation, it changes every thing. It opens every thing. So by this dualism, itís crucial to close political spaces. And the cartels succeeded to mobilize, to manipulate, and also to cover all of the conflicts inside Israel. Class conflicts were there, ethnic conflicts were there, religious-secular conflicts----all of these hostilities became left and right, but they are covered, because you can not discuss none of these issues and you can not represent none of these issues!

The democratic opening starts with intifada. Today, the First Intifada, because we had a second! It put an end to the stability of the regime. It demarcated the borders of the State of Israel and also the hopeful State of Palestine, and created new power relations, forcing Israel to recognize the Palestinians and negotiate. The elections in 1992 coordinated the two arenas claiming the change of priority. I want to explain this point. We have two arenas of politics. As a matter of fact, we have three, but now I want to talk about two. The internal arena of the politics inside Israel, with conflicts and different identities and claims, etc. and we have the Israeli-Palestinian arena of relations, which also need to be democratized. The question is how to do it. So the articulation was done by the leader and for sure later with the cooperation of the leader of the Palestinians, it was Rabin and Rabin articulated the two arenas with the slogan changing of priorities. What does it mean? We need to stop investing money, effort, people in the occupied territories and to put all of this money inside Israel to develop the economy, close inequalities, etc. etc. That is the way that the Labor Party started the democratization process. From the moment that the Palestinians space was open to negotiations, internal spaces inside Israel were opened too. Class conflicts appeared, ethnic hostilities between Mizrahim and Ashkenazi Jews appeared, civil rights claims of the Palestinians inside Israel appeared, and the hostility between the secular and the religious. Every thing was open. When you open one, you immediately open the other. You close one, you close the other. That is my point.

The tribal left-right mobilization was weakened by the emergence of tensions between different sectors because you suddenly have Mizrahi voices; they can represent themselves. They donít need the Likud folks to do it. Also the Ashkenazis with the anti-religious identities have their own parties. They donít need the Labor Party precisely. And they lost power. At the beginning of the process, they more or less had 80 seats in the Knesset. At the end of this process, they had 40 in six years, something like this. The dominant upper classes were unable and unwilling to open space to the peripheral groups, which were mobilized one against the other, creating fear of national disintegration. The point is the following. It is not only to recognize the identity of the Mizrahis or the Arab Palestinians citizens or the orthodox. It is to put money in the budget to solve their problems. So, the dominant group, that was mainly motivated to keep power on their hands, was completely enabled to open the political space to their rivals. Enabled and willing because it would share their power. And this was the failure. This was my argument in my book. The first flaw of this process was that it was mainly inside Israel, not in relations with the Palestinians because of the simple fact they did not even enter real negotiations, but the first process failed due to the inability to coordinate the opening of political spaces in the two arenas.

[Ö] What we have since then is what we more or less call cows. The Palestinian Authority is inside the territories. The military are surrounding them and separating them, but they have some standing organization and there is no possibility of stability in this situation, because Rabin was killed in the moment. We donít know where he was moving at all. We can imagine but the process was ended in the middle without any possibility to continue. Without the political forces and without the agendas to continue this movement, the Israeli internal tensions grew until 2000, and the feeling was that Israeliness was disappearing and secular identities started to appear and completely ignoring the suffering of the Palestinians. I call this the imagined peace. They imagined that we are in a peace process, then immediately the internal struggles appeared but no one was taking into consideration that the Palestinians are in a worse situation than before. Then, when the Second Intifada appeared, the Israelis united against the Palestinians. So, all the previous tensions, went again under the carpet were covered by the violence but also all of the openings inside Israel were closed. Violence closed the space for the Palestinian representation and the space for the Israeli presentation.

And now I come to what I call the orphan generation, Dor B. Dor is in Hebrew generation and B is the name of the movement. B is the first letter of beit, home, and this is the way they called themselves and added that the meaning of it is also related to labor relations because Dor B was something that was invented to worsen the situation of the next generation of workers. It was invented by the trade unions when there were struggles they said, ok, we can compromise with you, but the next workers will not have your conditions. And this is Dor B. This is the meaning of next generation. It means that parents; not direct parents, I didnít do that to my daughter and my son, in principle I have better conditions than them. Work conditions, salaries, pension rights, whatever, my generation has much better than the next generation. And this is something new, because in the past, it was the opposite. We have a better situation than our parents.

This generation has a very interesting history and experience. They experience, more or less, this generation, starting with Dalpha Leef, the first leader of the movement, she said as a girl. She is now 25. And she was ten when Rabin was killed or nine. And she tells the story in the demonstrations and in the media, this is the first experience; the loss of hope when Rabin was assassinated and all the violent experiences of the Second Intifada, the repression, terror, and the neoliberal economics. This is the experience of this generation. I think that we can frame them as being 10 to 20 in the day that Rabin was assassinated. That is tomorrow, btw, Nov. 4. The neoliberal economics also forced them to start to struggle. I think almost immediately because the meaning was that the middle classes were losing their economic power and their resources and the children felt it too. Sure, I witnessed in the university in the strikes of the students, but the first strike was in 1998 and already in that strike I said this is a generation that wants their own political space and they are building something new. This was a very impressive strike during fifty days. All of the universities and colleges in Israel were closed. And the constant demonstrations and they even then started to develop this discourse that solved this problem of identities, sectarianism.

This was the problem of the left leading to peace. They didnít want to include the others and they started to and their slogans were, ďwe are Jews and Arabs, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, women and men.Ē These were the slogans in 1998. And in the end of the struggle they went, a group of them, on a hunger struggle that lasted twenty days. Bibi Netanyahu was the Prime Minister and he broke this struggle in a very nasty way. [Ö] He brought pizza to the strikers and some were eating, but others were people who were not in the hunger strike and then the media took their pictures and it broke the solidarity of the movement. Incredible, he is now in my opinion paying the bill of this irresponsibility on those days.

In 2007, there was another strike of students. Their claim was not against the rise of feast like here, it was to reduce the feast. They claimed to reduce it in 50 percent. But there were other strikes. And this is very interesting. In the last year, the high school teachers went to strike, the doctors are now I think within the conflict; they are striking for five months right now, and the social workers. In each of these cases, there was a conflict inside the trade union between the new generation and the old generation. The new generation were the representatives of the trade union, and their in power and they always compromise and they didnít improve the situation of the young generation. In several cases, they broke the agreements after the trade union reached an agreement; the young people went against the agreement. Now this is the problem in case of the doctors. They resigned from jobs in the hospitals. Not only strike, but resigned from jobs in the hospitals. They donít accept the compromise with the government.

This new nation started to organize. To organize NGOs! They worked with oriental Jews, [Ö] youth, women, Arabs, and Bedouins, in peripheral towns. They also organized the social economic organizations. There are a lot of organizations struggling against occupation. I donít want to mention them, in order not to offend any group, but you have Machsom Watch, Taíayush, the soldiers refusing to go, the soldiers that go to the military but afterwards they tell what they are doing there, Womenís Coalition for Peace, Women in Black, a lot of organizations. Now Sheikh Jarrah, I think they call themselves now Solidarity. I want to make clear. In the J-14, these two groups of solidarity, social and economic activists and peace activists, are together. They are participating together and what you have here is a kind of atmosphere of democratization. In the tents, you donít only have discussions about the neo-liberal economy, how to reduce inequalities, there were debates also on the one state solution. So, every thing is open and every thing is legitimate. This is what the movement is trying to do. There is a very important organization that I must mention, the Koach líOvedim, the Organization of the Workers that are not organized by the Histadrut. And this is a very important organization. They have several achievements. The last one was yesterday night, I think. The agreement in Haifa! They are fighting all the time to organize the unorganized and the agreement of yesterday was precisely canceling the agreement to allow to separate the young from the veterans! This was the meaning of the last agreement. They are doing a very important work in creating the transfer of solidarity.

The movement is very interesting in the sense that they have these assemblies every day that you also now have in this occupy movement! I hate the word occupy and the occupation, itís why occupy, but they have this anthem every day in the tents. They also have big national meetings cause its not coming from New York and San Francisco. Itís coming from Jerusalem, so they have national meetings. So there is an atmosphere of democracy, but there are people taking decisions. Not only every one can do every thing, for example the decision to go to this demonstration or another demonstration, is central so they are doing something that is in my opinion very interesting, clever, and intelligent. The question is, can the J-14 movement open political space in both arenas? Not only inside Israel, but also for the Palestinians? Well, my argument is that they have no choice. If they donít open the political space towards the unrecognized and negotiate with the Palestinians, their own political space will be closed by external clashes with violent enemies and you can trust Netanyahu to find external enemies every where. No problem if at the beginning it was Abu Mazen, Fatah, then Hamas, now Jihad Islamic, and now Iran. And you can continue. Our problem is that the United States supports him. That is the real tragedy.

So, you have no choice but change. But how are they doing something in this direction? There are some elements of democratization already from the beginning. If we leave balance of power, they are trying to balance the power of what you call here the one percent, they call it the tycoons. The tycoons are not the one percent. They are the one percent of the one percent of the one percent. Itís a very very small group. And they are talking in the name of the people that is almost every one! Itís the middle classes, the lower classes, the upper middle classes, but the interesting point is that not only that they are balancing the power of the tycoons. They are unintentionally demarcating the borders of the state because they are claiming houses in their cities, not in the occupied territories. They donít say that. I think they didnít even think about it. And the government is building houses. All the time, in the occupied territories! Itís investing a lot of money building houses. So if you are in the settlement, you can not join the movement except if you go to Tel Aviv to join the movement. If you go to Tel Aviv to join the movement, itís ok because itís exactly what they want. Go back to the borders of Israel! But they can not make an encampment in the territories and claim built for us houses because the government is building houses for them. So, unintentionally, by starting from the question of housing, they demarcated the borders of Israel. So you have people demonstrating every where but these are the borders within Israel.

And it was funny, because the settlers were the beginning immediately, reacting by attacking the movement as leftists and also they say if you want cheap houses, you can come to the territories. No problem! And when they saw that it was so popular, they started to want to join the club. Even Kahane had some tents in Rothchild, so they wanted to be part of, because this is a people that want to be part of the people. But they completely failed. And I think the most important is to create the feeling that there is space for every one in the movement because part of the failure of the left, the Ashkenazi left, it identified with the upper middle classes, the secular identity, and my impression is that they want to escape this image. At the beginning, it was the main campaign to say this spoiled kid, they are eating sushi and they are aware of the demands must include the demands of the lower classes. These are the ethnic groups that are excluded.

It is not at all easy to do but this is a point that they are working hard to build this coalition. And it is related to the demands of social justice, of better housing, education, and health. I know the ages of this generation because my young son is 25 and my daughter is 35, so this is exactly, she was 20 and he was 10 when Rabin was killed and my daughter is part of the Jerusalem camp. You have several camps in Jerusalem. Part are of the people that are really without house, that are in the streets! Families, mainly women with children, women alone, and they have some separate camp and they are doing now squat. But this squat is not called to stay there. These are squats to demonstrate that they are without houses. And this became a very strong event, because in order to remove them from their houses, they are using a lot of violence and this became also an important issue.

How do they build a new discourse? That is clear that it is connecting the question of the Palestinians with the question ofÖIts not at all easy because at the moment they will be tagged as leftists, they lose the struggle. So they do it in a very mild way. They mention that the Rabin assassination is the first experience they had. Rabin is always there. I think they even exaggerated a little. At the end, I will show you the show. I think it creates an atmosphere yearning for Rabin. Its problematic but mentioning the assassination of Rabin is a political point. It has a political meaning. They emphasize the building of a new Israeli identity based on solidarity and justice, and it is inclusive of the peripheral group that includes also the Palestinians. This is very important. Iím not sure that they are succeeding to do it in practical terms and there is a lot of problems because the Palestinians citizens are very suspicious of the movement. They say, well, at the end, you will make us the dog bait. You will forget us. You will have houses for you but not for us. And there are groups that are struggling now for this issue to destroy the houses of 30,000 Bedouins in the Negev. The movement is against that, but itís not mobilizing all the masses against it. So itís difficult to mobilize every one in solidarity with the Bedouins. Itís not easy and this is exactly the kind of challenges the movement is facing.

But obviously the most important obstacle is that the government can easily escalate violence and mobilize fear and hate, not against the movement. This is a mistake I believe. Against the Arabs and against the Palestinians, itís not a question. You need nothing more than to close the space for the social and economic claims because at the moment you have fear and hate, it closes the political space for the Palestinians. So they must continue and it is not at all easy. They started I think to move in this way. I donít know if you know, the last Saturday there was a demonstration in Tel Aviv, big demonstration in Tel Aviv, I donít want to say how many people but I will show pictures. This is the first time they go to Rabin Square, where he was killed, and they made a big issue for the fact that they are in Rabin Square. And the Rabin Square was full. I will show you some picture. But the important point was that it was in the middle of the fire in Gaza. And there were demonstrations also in Jerusalem, in Haifa, and the demonstration in Beíersheva was canceled because Beíersheva was under fire. So, this window of opportunity in the summer disappeared. September is over. Now they need to continue and if they continue they need to start being able to mobilize people also in periods of violence. I think this is also with no precedent. Such a big demonstration on social and economic issues; it wasnít for peace. For peace, there were demonstrations. For social economic issues during the time of fire on the south, it never happened. And who was in this stage? This I can refer to the ending, how you can fit politically. They invited the most famous satiric group that were fifteen years ago, not by chance, and they made a sketch! They start to say oh we are in Rabin Square, do you remember how nice it was in those days, when Rabin was alive? And then they started to make a joke of the situation since then. Hello in Hebrew is Shalom. Donít say shalom. Donít say peace. You can not say peace now. Itís very sporadic to say peace now. And they started to say, are we expecting now again? Do we have hope? Are you going to change? And then they say, no no, this cannot be. They joke, what is this smell? And they started to say, well, we donít smell hope. We donít smell change. What you are smelling is war!

The challenge is very difficult. The chances that the government would be able to reactivate violence and silence in the movement is big but this will push the movement to decision! They will need to decide how to react. It is a real movement. No chance! The enthusiasm in the summer was incredible. Every one wanted to be in the streets to be part of it. It means the political space of this people is closed, for almost fifteen years, so the enthusiasm that we can go to the streets and make a differenceÖThis is in relation to Tahrir. Tahrir was also a case to open the political space and to be recognized. This is a matter of recognition. I donít like to be optimistic or pessimistic, but I can show this is a movement that may reach the point of effective movements. Effective movements have two elements: civil society mobilization and political articulation. Still, there are no political parties! They may appear. I am not talking about existing political parties that are trying to make some capital from the movement, but really representing the parties of the movement. This may happen. I assume that if there is time, it will happen but part of the debate will be not only what happened on the socio-economic claims but how to discuss the question of peace with the Palestinians.

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