Savir's Corner: Protesting in 2012

Protest of young generation is global phenomenon in Occupy Wall Street, Occupy London, Arab Spring and Rothschild Boulevard protest.

daphne leef stav shafir 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
daphne leef stav shafir 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The French author Stéphane Hessel last year published a pamphlet titled Indignez-vous (Time for Outrage!).
It was a passionate appeal by a 93- year-old man to the younger generation to express its rage against the lack of social justice in the capitalist system and its elites.
Its message resonated strongly with youth in many parts of the world, starting with France, with those who felt estranged from the political system, the unemployed, the intellectuals in the universities, those suffering in rundown suburbs, etc.
Almost four million people read and were inspired by the book and, indeed, expressed their rage by protesting in the streets and squares of many cities.
The protest of the young generation has become a global phenomenon of young people in the past two years, be it in Occupy Wall Street, Occupy London, the French protests, the Tahrir and Jasmine revolutions and the Arab Spring, and also here in Israel during the Rothschild Boulevard protest.
In France, it led many young people to change the political scene, as the majority helped to oust the right-wing Gaulism of Nicolas Sarkozy and his policy of fiscal restraint.
2011 was the great year of the Israeli social protest movement, led on Rothschild by Daphni Leef and her friends.
They brought half a million Israelis to the streets, chanting for social justice, demanding structural political-economic reforms that would increase employment and make life more affordable. They sought a fairer Israel in which burdens are carried more evenly.
The government was concerned at the outset, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in his masterful Machiavellian manipulations, created the Trajtenberg Committee, whose insufficient policy recommendations were further diluted by a government adamant to achieve its macroeconomic goals of fiscal restraint, complacent towards the social outcry and indifferent to the under-privileged populations in the periphery of the country and of society, while wasting millions of shekels in the settlements.
The Israeli protest of 2011 produced little result; some more affordable housing, and free education from the age of three.
Yet the socioeconomic gaps in the country maintained their record levels; job opportunities, quality education, modern healthcare, basic modern infrastructure are affordable to the “haves” in the big cities and not to the “have nots” in the suburbs and the periphery. The next state budget, for 2013, will only worsen this situation – as the finance minister warns of drastic budget cuts in social services, which will hurt the middle class, coupled with political “bribes” to the religious, the settlers and the wealthy elite.
This is worsened by the creation of the new national unity government – the unholy marriage of the two big bluffers of Israeli politics: Netanyahu and Shaul Mofaz. What the public thinks of their integrity is only matched by what they think of each other. But they have no political worry – they have created a non-democratic majority of 94 Knesset seats, with a minute opposition. Economic policies from the school of Nicolas Sarkozy and democratic policies from the school of Nicolae Ceausescu. These are reflected by a combination of lack of social sensitivity, right-wing economic dogmas, an abuse of the democratic system and a total refusal to engage in a real peace process with our neighbors; all these endanger our very identity as a vibrant democracy based on equality.
That is the reality that the protest movement of 2012 faces. It is their time to act – and very differently than in 2011. First, the protest movement should bring to the attention of the country the socioeconomic injustice we live in – in 2011 one out of every four Israelis was defined as living under the poverty line, twice the average of the OECD countries. As for the level of poverty, we are 33rd out of 34 OECD countries.
The most tragic and dramatic number relates to Israeli children – 850,000 of them, or every fourth Israeli child, lives beneath the poverty line. This is exacerbated by the cuts over the past decade in the education budget – 150,000 study hours were cut from the curriculum during those years. More than 50 percent of the available housing is not affordable for the vast majority of the population, but only for the wealthy and the settlers (data collected from National Insurance Institute and OECD studies in 2011).
Speaking of settlements – they attract tremendous investments from this rightwing government. In the 2011-12 state budget, the level of investment in settlements and their security (investments in the West Bank) is above NIS 2 billion – a disproportionate investment mainly for the 300,000 settlers whose number increases yearly by 5 percent. Imagine what NIS 2b. could do in the fight against poverty. It is no wonder then that Israel is one of the most socially unjust countries – the level of socioeconomic inequality is the fifth highest among OECD countries. Today our traditional values of equality and social equity have been brutally overrun by the unscrupulous drive of the government.
Beyond bringing this to the attention of Israelis, the young generation of today should express loudly and forcefully its rage and outrage in a multitude of demonstrations. It should demand drastic policy change from the wall-to-wall government, so far indifferent to the suffering of the middle and lower classes.
More important, the protest movement of 2012 must learn from the mistakes of 2011 – in aspiring to increase its numbers, it created a false consensus and the illusion that the protest was not political.
Protest by definition cannot be based on full consensus, as in every social equation there are those who gain and those who lose. Moreover, by definition protest against economic policies is political, directed as it is against the policy-makers of the day.
And it has to be political in another way too. If there are many under-privileged, then there are many over-privileged – in our case the wealthy and the favorite Israelis in the eyes of this government: the settlers. The cost of the settlements and the occupation is unbearable. So is the level of the resulting defense budget.
There is no social justice without peace, or at the very least no social justice policy without an active peace policy.
The 2012 protest must therefore be loud, courageous and political, carried out not by parties but by the young middle class, daring to challenge the government on poverty, housing, education, health services, basic food costs, as well as the settlements and peace.
In 2012, the people need to demand, with fury, social justice and peace. There is no one else left in our new political reality to convey the message.
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.