Welcome, Guest! - or
Easy to remember!  »  VinNews.com

Tel Aviv - In Israel Protests, A Surprise Arab-Inspired Taste

Published on: August 10, 2011 10:59 PM
By: AP
Change text size Text Size  
Bookmark and Share
FILE - Thousands of Israelis march during a protest against the rising cost of living in Israel, in central Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. APFILE - Thousands of Israelis march during a protest against the rising cost of living in Israel, in central Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011. AP

Tel Aviv - Israelis, living in an island of relative freedom and comfort and surrounded by countries they generally view with disdain, are not accustomed to taking their cues from Arabs.

So the idea that the eruption of a mass movement protesting Israel’s corrosive social inequality could have been influenced — even inspired — by the Mideast’s Arab Spring revolts, for many Israelis, just doesn’t compute.

But the traces of influence were there as a quarter million Israelis took to the streets last weekend to protest a stratospheric cost of living, poor public services and one of the highest income gaps in the developed world. Chants echoed those that rang out in the streets of Arab capitals, and tent protest camps on the style of those in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have arisen in the streets of Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities.

Advertisement:

Both movements also shared a dramatic suddenness: Much like Arabs had for decades seemed resigned to dictatorships, Israelis had taken economic divisions as a fact of life, until each decided they had had enough.

The Israelis aren’t calling for regime change, and their country already has a democracy. But some Israelis embrace the connection and even find a pleasant surprise in the thought that, despite decades of hostility and distrust, the Mideast antagonists share similar hopes for a better life.

“It’s definitely not an accident,” said Iddo Felsenthal, a 27-year-old school teacher and protester. “I personally hope that it would lead to a better understanding between Arabs and Jews.”

Felsenthal was sitting in Jerusalem’s downtown Independence Park, where protesters camped in some 30 tents. Men and women sat in the shade. Some scrawled signs. A man worshipped among them, swaying as he recited prayers. A dog pestered protesters to toss him a ball. Children played on the grass. A slogan, “The tent city is just the beginning,” was emblazoned in Hebrew on a large sheet.

To an outsider, it would hardly seem strange that Israelis would be affected, if even subconsciously, by what is going on in the Arab world. But in fact their country is deeply isolated from its neighbors, and not just by decades of enmity and violence.

A majority of Israelis are culturally closer to the West than the Middle East, a legacy of the Zionist movement that emerged from Europe and the European origins of the vast majority of those who have led the Jewish state since. That can translate at times into a disdain for Arab countries as backward.

Israel’s military might and the strength of its economy compared to its neighbors have heightened a feeling of superiority.

Until the recent convulsions, few tended to pay much attention to regional developments, even though Israel borders Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Egypt.

So many bristle at the suggestion that the tremors in the Arab world could have given Israel a jostle.

“We are some nice quiet people. We don’t want problems,” said Nissim Slama, a 28-year-old volunteer at another Jerusalem protest tent. “It’s not like Tahrir.”

For Slama, the idea that Jews came together decades ago to build their own state was enough inspiration.

“We know if people get together can do crazy, awesome things — like create a country.”

The wider public who dove into the moment in recent days may not feel inspired by the Arab Spring, but some of those who initially organized Israel’s protests acknowledge the influence, in some cases citing also Spain — where young people have been protesting rampant joblessness for months, in some cases erecting tent camps and scuffling with police.

“People saw that other people managed to leave their houses and demand their rights. People here were quite desperate — but quiet and even numb,” said protest leader Stav Shaffir. “But in Spain ... and the Arab countries — to demand their rights and cope with violence and challenges was of course a great inspiration,” she said.

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands demonstrated until President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the signature chant was, “The people demand the fall of the regime.”

The same cadence is in the Israelis’ chant, “The people want social justice.”

One sign in the Tel Aviv demonstration Saturday scrawled the Arabic word and anti-Mubarak slogan, “Irhal” — “Leave.” Underneath, the protester wrote in Hebrew, “Egypt — it’s here.”

There are other similarities. In both countries, the middle class is leading struggles. They share communal solidarity: in impoverished Egypt, volunteers distributed food to demonstrators. In Israel, some protest tents have kitchen volunteers who cook and serve three meals a day. Both began with a single grievance.

Israel’s social justice movement began with a tent encampment on an upscale boulevard in Tel Aviv last month, protesting high housing prices for purchase and rental. It quickly spread, attracting supporters from Israel’s squeezed and exhausted middle class: high prices, an eroding health system, expensive child care, high taxes, overcrowded schools and wages that often do not match increasingly ambitious expectations.

Three weeks later, protest tents dot most Israeli cities. There’s music and mingling singles along with evening meetings and political discussions.

The weekly focus is Saturday night, when protesters organize mass demonstrations. Police estimate that in cities across Israel, at least 250,000 demonstrated last Saturday night, headed by a colorful gathering in downtown Tel Aviv that filled streets as protesters were serenaded by top Israeli pop icons.

Responding to the demonstrators, the government formed a panel of economic and social experts who will recommend ways to improve living standards. It is set to meet for the first time on Sunday.

Even protesters who see regional inspiration draw sharp distinctions.

They note that Israel is a democracy, despite its flaws. Government forces are not attacking demonstrators. The chant of “revolution” is ballot-box saber-rattling. Protesters demand social justice, not regime change.

Conditions unique to Israel also fostered momentum. The country has been relatively free of Palestinian attacks for several years. That quiet has allowed Israelis to focus on social and economic problems, instead of security matters, traditionally the country’s chief concern.

“The water we were sinking in reached our noses,” said unemployed 49-year-old Amnon Tsur, who lives with his mother.

To Ayala Levy, a 45-year-old mother of four, social desperation is part of the spark, but she also points to a Jewish tradition of communal solidarity and dismisses any influence from the Arab Spring.

“You need more than inspiration to leave your own home and live in a tent,” she said.


More of today's headlines

San Francisco, CA - If you're anything like me, your cellphone and its built-in camera is always on you, while your digital camera gathers dust at home. This wasn't... New York - Support levels. Moving averages. Breakouts. That strange language is being spoken more forcefully on Wall Street these days. It is the language of...

 

You can now automatically hide comments - New!

Don't worry, you can always display comments when you need to.

Total11

Read Comments (11)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Aug 10, 2011 at 11:10 PM Rachel W. Says:

They're early. Sukkos is over two months away.

2

 Aug 11, 2011 at 12:19 AM KVETCH Says:

its unreal how the media controls.250,000 secular people march against gov. policy & every newspaper in the world is full. but when 300,000 frum yidden protested against the gov. (about 10 yrs ago) it was barely mentioned in local papers

3

 Aug 11, 2011 at 12:02 AM woah! Says:

what is our world coming to????

4

 Aug 11, 2011 at 12:29 AM MosheM Says:

Sickos

5

 Aug 11, 2011 at 04:18 AM thechef88 Says:

Reply to #4  
MosheM Says:

Sickos

they are not sick! they just want a better life. the lower and middle class are struggling. it is worse than here in the u.s. you can't make ends meet while the rich get richer.

6

 Aug 11, 2011 at 05:49 AM mommy Says:

Wait, wait............ America is next. With Obamacare and high cost of everything..... Americans are fed up. They too will be protesting in the streets very soon. Remember, you saw it here on VIN!!!!

7

 Aug 11, 2011 at 08:35 AM Reb Yid Says:

The comparison between the protests in Israel and those in the Arab world are so superficial as to be laughable. This article was written just to be able to get in anti-Israel propaganda--"surrounded by countries they generally view with disdain," "one of the highest income gaps in the developed world," juxtaposing "Arab capitals" and "Tel Aviv" (implying that TA is the capital of Israel), "the European origins of the vast majority of those who have led the Jewish state" (implying that Jews are really Europeans who don't have a right to eretz yisroel), etc.

8

 Aug 11, 2011 at 09:30 AM Mike Says:

# 7 good analysis - these protestors are really leftist scumbags

9

 Aug 11, 2011 at 12:46 PM Chaim_Ben-Yehuda Says:

Reply to #8  
Mike Says:

# 7 good analysis - these protestors are really leftist scumbags

Reb Yid's analysis was admirable, there is no argument about that.

But you, Mike, have totally missed the point of what Reb Yid had to say. He was railing against the writers of the article - not its subject matter.

10

 Aug 11, 2011 at 01:52 PM wisconsinyid Says:

There is NO correlation between the Arab protests and the ones in Israel. The Israelis aren't trying to topple their government, are they? If anything, this is a positive and VERY "Jewish" thing to do; the same vocal people that got together and formed the Israeli government right at the very beginning...

11

 Aug 11, 2011 at 01:55 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #2  
KVETCH Says:

its unreal how the media controls.250,000 secular people march against gov. policy & every newspaper in the world is full. but when 300,000 frum yidden protested against the gov. (about 10 yrs ago) it was barely mentioned in local papers

Ummmm, Kvetch, that is kvetch! Maybe no one took them seriously because they don't pay taxes, serve in the military, or do anything....not that a life dedicated to Torah isn't a problem, but if you make life difficult for the rest of the world because of it and refuse to contribute to the society that you live in....what do they expect?!?! Respect?????

12

Sign-in to post a comment

Scroll Up
Advertisements:

Sell your scrap gold and broken jewelry and earn hard cash sell gold today!