I was watching the news this week, and was hit with a serious case of deja vu. Thousands of demonstrators taking over a public space, setting up tents, and then holding massive protests; this is not Tel Aviv this past summer, it is New York City right now.
While many have compared the protests that are erupting throughout the United States with the Arab Spring, a more apt comparison would be with the social justice protests that overtook Israel this past summer.
Israel, a tiny nation with an even smaller population, has yet again shown its global reach and ability to truly affect the world as a “light unto the nations”. The protests that started in New York have begun cropping up in Atlanta, Boston, and many other U.S. cities, almost a carbon copy of what took place in Israel only a few months ago.
One of the key arguments presented by New York protestors is that wealth is unequally distributed among U.S. citizens. Their slogan - “We Are the 99 Percent” – is eerily similar to the cries of Israeli protesters that took over Rothschild Blvd over the summer, speaking out against the fact that so much of Israel’s wealth is controlled by so few.
Unequal distribution of wealth, whether it happens naturally through the free market or artificially due to unfair legislation, will always yield negative results, regardless of where or why it occurs. These protests are the natural expression of a citizenry that feels cheated by this unfair, unequal income gap.
At the beginning of the tent protests on Rothschild, political classes jeered at the protestors, calling them “tzfonim”- spoiled brats who were just complaining about high rent prices.
A similar phenomenon can be seen in the United States, with many of the upper echelons of American society reacting with the same type of scorn. Members of the Chicago Board of Trade, for example, posted a sign outside of their offices overlooking the protestors, mockingly saying: “We are the One Percent”.
Both the protests in Israel as well as the United States have legitimate complaints about the socioeconomic status of their middle and lower classes. For too long, governments around the world have cared more about giving tax breaks to the wealthy than providing for the majority of their constituents in desperate need of better education, universal health care and economic stimuli to increase employment levels.
The time has come for the indifference of governments toward their citizens, to end. It is not only the Gadhafis and Assads of the world who must implement drastic political reforms, but democracies too must take steps to ensure that they are upholding the values their societies were founded upon.
Governments the world over have put their cronies before their citizens for too long, and the activists on Rothschild and in Zucotti Park have shown that the people have had enough. Although “Occupy Wall Street” and the Rothschild “tent city” are separated by thousands of miles, representing two very different societies, their message is the same.
Americans and Israelis are fed up with their governments’ lack of accountability to their constituents and their indifference to the people’s justified and basic needs; these protesters, be they in Tel Aviv, New York or Washington are taking democracy back, and acting as emissaries for a much needed change.
Zachary Katowitz is an IDF veteran who is the director of volunteer operations at FriendaSoldier.com and will begin a degree in Government in the fall.
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