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The revolting Israeli middle class

I’ll be at the so-called Million Man demonstration tonight, if only because not attending would identify me (in my own mind) with the reactionary majority of the population. Whatever doubts I have about the motives, sincerity and staying power of the demonstrators, they have broken with the self-satisfied apathy that has characterized Israeli society for the past few decades and that in itself deserves to be supported.

There’s an old, Marxist struggle raging inside me: whether to retain the purity of my ideology – and in so doing achieve absolutely nothing – or to compromise with the less ideologically rigorous and perhaps contribute in a very small way to positive change.

Having been a committed anti-Stalinist all my life I will, of course, abandon purity for the prospect of success. I will demonstrate with people whose sole objective appears to be to get increasing numbers of people to demonstrations; who haven’t enunciated any goals for the demonstration (as far as I am aware,) and who seem to be avoiding like the plague anything that smacks of criticism of the military budget, the occupation and the mafia settlement enterprise.

Or, as T.S. Elliot might have put it, they are doing the right deed for the wrong reason (Murder in the Cathedral.) Sure, the economy is in a bit of a mess, cronyism and cartels abound, the social net is sagging and the cost of living is high. But are those really our existential problems? Are those the issues that, if solved, would make us a better society?

It’s actually grotesque that Israel’s pampered middle class marches when it feels that the government’s hand is too deep in its pocket, but has sipped espresso and watched reality shows while a tiny minority has protested against the occupation over the past four decades or so.

The reality is that the global economy is in bad shape and Israelis are far from being the worst off. The cost of housing may be high, but it is no higher than in many other places. The capitalist reaction against the socialism of Israel’s founders has gone too far for many people, but Israel still has a social welfare net that that puts the US, among others, to shame.  True, the vulgarity (the word that comes to mind is the South Africanism grob) of the Israel tycoons makes one want to puke, but does that really justify a million people taking to the streets?

My eldest daughter told me last night that her reasons for demonstrating were that the government is kochanit, (my best effort at a translation is “arbitrary and reliant on force”) and indifferent to the needs and wishes of the people. I can’t argue with that. I can only point out that:

(a) It’s not only the current government that is kochanit; it’s been the dominant feature of just about every Israeli government I can remember and it’s a fair description of the behavior of many – if not most – Israelis. Perhaps it’s a trait that come from below and not only from above? And

(b) The arbitrariness and reliance on force  exhibited towards the Jewish population is barely worth mentioning when compared to the brutality of the occupation. That’s the school in which many Israelis learn their trade. It’s not their fault that they’re good students.

I can’t see how the revolt of the Israeli middle class can succeed without addressing the true cancers in the society: occupation, settlement and militarism. The leaders of the demonstration are reportedly downplaying those issues in order to retain as wide a constituency as possible. But can there be any real progress without tackling the core issues?

The newly-aware and militant young people of the middle class seem to believe that it’s possible. I doubt it. But I’ll join them tonight nevertheless. Even an old armchair revolutionary has to heave himself to his feet sometimes.

4 replies on “The revolting Israeli middle class”

Occupation, settlement, militarism. Are these the cancers of society, or the metastases of some other cancer?

We haven’t been paying attention, but this country has been espousing an extreme neo-liberal approach for a good number of years. This, I think, is the crux of the young peoples’ protest (even if they aren’t able to put it in words).

I refer you again to lectures by Dr. Yaron Zelicha explaining how the Ministry of Finance is creating non-competitive oligopolies in many areas, that have been constricting the economy and creating a massive capital flow to a thin layer of tycoons.

This same approach is evident in legislation and the courts. Private ownership rights and freedom of pursuit receive an inordinate precedence over social rights such as the right for good education or healthcare at reasonable cost.

I wonder if occupation, settlement and militarism are the enablers or results of this heartless neo-liberalism. They certainly go hand-in-hand.

I don’t claim to know much about economics, but what you say makes sense. It’s likely that exploitative economic policies and brutality in the territories feed off the same sources. In terms of what is the chicken and what the egg, militarism (as in glorifying the military) predates the state and the occupation is almost 45 years old, so I guess they are the original cancers from which the rest has metastasized.

My dear Roy,
For somebody who used to be paid good money (often in foreign currency) to be politically astute, you are being incrediblly stupid.
The facts as I see them, is that people forgot how to think, forgot to think about solidarity, forgot to think about about justice, forgot to think about decency.
And when they start to think you start kibbitzing about where they start? When I wake up in the morning I think about my overdraft and not about the horrendous injustice we do every day to the Palestinians. That’s the truth.
The real beginning of any struggle against cancer or cancers is to realize that you are sick. That’s what’s happening now.

Mikey – I looked for those people last night, the ones who have recently realized how sick they are, but I couldn’t see many of them among the throng. What I saw was a huge crowd of Israelis having a good time together on a sweltering late-summer night. There were signs spanning the gamut of generalized discontent, from Free Gilad Shalit to something incoherent about improving hiring policies. And everyone wants to fuck the tycoons. It was like a Rio carnival without the bodies and the music. If this is an awakening, I don’t think the cancers have much to worry about.

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