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Israel: Protests for Social Justice Sweep the Country

What started as a local protest against the skyrocketing housing market in Tel-Aviv has escalated into the largest public uprising that the state of Israel has ever witnessed. The movement for social justice spurred tent cities in major metropolitan hubs across the country, mobilizing over 4 per cent of Israel's total population (one out of every 20 Israelis took to the streets in last week's massive protest).

While the Israeli economy is strong, unemployment is low, the shekel is powerful, foreign investment high and economic growth steady, Israelis from across the board have come together in protest against a higher ideal – not political and not necessarily demanding for a change in government.

This is a protest against what Israel has become, in the name of what it once was. It is an effort by the young Israelis to recapture an older, more egalitarian, more idealistic country that their parents lost. – Michael Walzer

Social justice protest, Tel Aviv, Israel. Image by tamirsher, copyright Demotix (06/08/11).

Social justice protest, Tel Aviv, Israel. Image by tamirsher, copyright Demotix (06/08/11).

The J14 movement was initiated by a young Israeli woman named Daphni Leef who pitched a tent in the center of Tel Aviv three weeks ago (July 14th) in protest of the unaffordable cost of housing. It is one of the first prominent movements in recent times, that manages to bridge across political gaps within Israeli society. Ran cohen explains in a Tweet:

#j14 is a collective process of examining, discussing and challenging power structures within Israeli society.

In the following video Dafni is seen preaching to an enthusiastic crowd, at the early days of the protest. (translation from Hebrew below)

You (directed at Bibi/Israeli gov't) made this Facebook generation who sits on its ass all day, come out to the sizzling streets. We will make sure that this summer you will also feel the heat like in Spain, in Madrid. And if you won't be careful, we promise to protest like in Cairo. You can still fix. If you will not fix and continue to ruin, as far as I am concerned, you are fired. Friends, let's be strong, united and full of hope. We came to take our country back!

Israelis from all walks of life took to the streets too. Main narratives focus on restraining capitalism, and shifting the country back to a welfare state. Many claim that they give so much to the country without seeing returns.

Israelis chant: "Bring back the welfare state."

Israelis chant: "Bring back the welfare state."

Elizabeth Tsurkov:

“Bring back the welfare state”. Many of the chants tonight called for a return to Israel's socialist days http://yfrog.com/z/h83w8kaj #j14

Although started by a group of politically left-leaning youth, its leaders are making an effort that the protests maintain a non-political character. Michael Waltzer offers a different perspective:

The uprising is a collective effort to escape the constraints and divisions of the Israeli debate about security, the nonexistent “peace process,” and the occupation. When the emerging leaders of the uprising insist that their protest is “non-political,” they mean that it's not about war and peace. They know, of course, that everything is connected, and that the difficulties they are experiencing are partly caused by massive state investment in the occupied territories. But they have their own dream of Zionist normality: they want to focus on their own lives and on the quality of domestic society…

The movement prides itself in its peaceful nature. We've seen little to no violence, which in the leader's opinion, highlights the power of the public involved. @ASoldiersMother posts:

I glory in the protests in Israel because they prove our democracy. Hundreds of thousands – no violence; police there to protect

There's been growing criticism against the movement for not having concrete demands. Social justice represents a multitude of issues, and one of their biggest struggles has been to come out with a clear, united voice. The following snippet is taken from a video interview where Dafni describes the movement's initial motivation:

We are left without homes. The goal is to bring prices back to the right proportions so that people can afford to rent or buy. This is not only an issue in Tel Aviv.
This is an optimistic protest. We want to be here. Don't want to leave the country. But its become impossible. At this rate, only the wealthy can stay here.

With the exponential growth in support across Israeli public, the J14 movement has utilized the social web as a means to host a public discussions. The main J14 website has updates and media from protests across the country, while its sister site, ohel.org.il is an interactive platform that encourages people to submit and vote up proposals and solutions. A variety of Facebook event pages send updates on current events, as well as a number of Twitter handles: @TLV_Revolution in Hebrew, @j14ar in Arabic, and @J14eng in English.

As a dual US-Israeli citizen, Idan Gazit shares his perspective:

Next time a Republican tells you about how the free market sorts everything out, next time they try to sell you on the evils of governmental “interference” in ensuring that no part of society ends up impoverished, tell them to look at Israel: it is their crystal ball.

There is nothing unpatriotic about thinking that our government should make sure that the lowest standard of living in our country is a standard that people can live with. There is nothing that says we must choose between what we have now and the 50+ percent tax rate of true socialist countries like Sweden.

Israel was born a socialist country, and to this day, we still enjoy vestiges of socialism in the form of universal healthcare which costs less every month than what I pay for my internet. The past decade has seen Israel's leaders discarding that legacy and importing the worst of America: materialism, unchecked capitalism, power as a function of money. I remember when cable TV first brought the outside world to Israel. I am old enough to have seen the changes wrought by Israeli's thirst for “America.”

This is the result. A government which is peopled with the worst criminals and liars our society has to offer, one of the fastest-growing, largest gaps between the wealthy and poor in history, and a population burnt out on the adrenaline jitters of a steady parade of security crises.

Sound familiar, right-wing America? Your crystal ball. We are it.

The following video montage includes scenes of the tent cities and protests sweeping throughout Israel, overlayed with the crowd chanting: “the people demand social justice”:

Finally, two Tweets worth highlighting:

David Harris-Gershon:

The question everyone on Twitter seems to be asking: how long can the #j14 protests go without explicitly addressing settlements/occupation?

Elizabeth Tsurkov:

Signs from Jaffa. Other chants: “Arabs & Jews refuse to be enemies” & “Arabs & Jews oppose house demolitions” http://yfrog.com/z/h8k2zwdj #j14

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