15 August 2011
The Big Tent?†
Capitalism as an economic system stretches the line between the rich and the poor, creating class struggles and inequality and incentive. Under Socialism people are more equal and have work and social benefits. The United States is capitalist, for example, and Norway is socialist.
Has anyone ever played the Israeli ‘game’ of looking at the speaker and guessing his or her politics? It’s not scientific but in Israel’s it works surprisingly well. The dark-complexioned ultra orthodox in the neat black suit most likely votes Shas. The teacher-speak of the thirty-something young man with ear-ring, jeans, T-shirt and shaved head probably indicates Meretz.
This all relates to the big news over the last couple of weeks of tent protests followed, give or take 50,000 people, the largest demonstration, ever, in Israel’s history. Demonstrations in Haifa, Beer Sheva and Jerusalem, not so much. Israel’s supposed ‘Arab Spring’ without the blood. Did anyone expect anything different?
While all-the-while denying they were ‘political’ the welfare-state and social justice rhetoric combined with attacks on Netanyhu and piggish capitalism and the virtual absence of anyone from the national camp (don’t they have just as much trouble paying the rent?) pointed to clear, traditional political agendas‡. Shall we say when the representatives of the tent protests were first interviewed it raised a number of red flags with me?
I attended the protest march despite huge scepticism. From what I saw on television I expected to be marching with the almost electorally obliterated, self-declared extreme Left of Israeli politics who mugged badly by Palestinian reality were trying to make a come-back on traditional Socialist concerns. Observing the marchers I realised they were almost to a man/woman hiloni (secular), Ashkenazi (European descent), middle class, two salaried, after Army service. Not an apolitical national movement despite pretensions. Where were the settlers, the national religious, the ultra orthodox, the Russians, the Sephardim (North African descent) or the Arabs?
At the same time this was not the extreme. This was the mainstream Left of Israeli politics: the people who would have voted Labor if the Labor party hadn’t imploded from throwing all their political eggs into Arafat’s basket and a surfeit of gigantic egos. In the spirit of full disclosure. These were the children and grandchildren of Ben Gurion and Golda Meir. If I had to pick an Israeli group closest to me in cultural sensibilities and attitude to most things this would be the group.
So, how should Israel advocates play this?
There has been considerable debate about this. Some advocates are non-stop promoting these essentially domestic concerns . That’s not unreasonable. There is no doubt the protests have many positives.
Unlike the rest of the Middle East they have a picnic atmosphere without any fear of a government massacre. They do show Israelis as normal people with normal worries about budgeting. Even the leftness of the demands may strike a sympathetic chord.
On the other hand if the Destroy Israel Lobby hasn’t realised that Israel is the sole democracy in the region they will never realise it. The opposite is probably true. Israel’s enemies probably rationalise it, exactly as the extreme Left do, as an indication that the ‘evil’ Netanyahu government is under Arab Spring style threat. I clearly am not the only one who has noticed the dichotomy (see Latma’s video below). If Israel advocacy hopes to erect a big tent for the wide range of views that are pro-Israel we have to be very careful not to exclude those who don’t believe in a welfare state.
My opinion is that while promoting this element of Israeli life isn’t a fatal mistake it takes our collective eyes off the ball that will bounce at the United Nations in September. Best to ignore it and spin it our way when someone else brings it up.
It is somehow reassuring to see that I’m not the only one to notice the politics.
- Meet Israel’s Alinskyites: How Radicals Infiltrated a New Protest Movement Jonathan Spyer, Pajamas Media, August 15, 2011
- 1984 on Rothschild Blvd. Zalman Shoval, Jerusalem Post, August 15, 2011
- Israel’s discon-tents. Benny Avni, New York Post, August 15, 2011
†A nod to another related discussion. Has Reut’s (and Like for Israel’s) ‘big tent’ approach simply moved the tent to the left privileging those who have co-opted the language of liberal progressive values to hide a much more radical agenda while shutting out those who passionately support Israel but reject the two-state solution as an unworkable fantasy?
‡ Avram Mitzna, perhaps alone in the Labor Party leadership contest, has openly accepted the view that this is a basic contest between a socialist and a capitalist world view.