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.