The Israeli ex-settler at the center of Occupy Wall Street
Kobi Skolnick, an ex-settler and Chabadnik turned non-Observant Israeli, is in NYC fighting for a better future – one where money doesn't comfort the rich while burdening the poor.
"No" was probably the last word finance giant Citigroup expected to hear when it offered the protesters sitting across the street whether they'd sit down to discuss what's bothering them.
The Occupy Wall Street protesters have already spent two months residing in tents at a park situated near Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers once stood – not far from the New York Stock Exchange.
Ex-settler and Chabadnik turned non-Observant Israeli, Kobi Skolnick, explains why the meeting didn't work out. "Citigroup approached us and offered for us to meet up. We agreed, but said we'd only meet here - in the square. One of the problems with politicians is that they leave their voters very quickly and go to rub shoulders with businessmen and wealthy people who give them donations. We're different. We are happy to speak to everyone – but come here to talk, not at your offices. And they decided not to come."
Skolnick, 30, is not a tourist that randomly got caught up with the movement, but is one of its core founding members– a group of about 20 activists. He arrived at Zuccotti Park last month– the day after the protest broke out, on September 18 – after he found out in July, via chain mails, that the movement was coming together. "I came here and straight away felt at home. There were intelligent people here who understand the problems, who want to change the world. But they are not naïve, rather very pragmatic. They understand that the United States is sinking and that the young generation around the world, and here too, demands a change. What you see here is a real protest. A protest that comes from the roots."
Skolnick's role in the Occupt Wall Street movement is in managing communications with the media and the protesters' meetings. It is not an official role and he is not the only person fulfilling it – this is a democratic movement without official leaders. Skolnick himself also participates in protests.
These are not the only protests Skolnick has ever participated in. In fact, he has a wealth of experience. "I participated in protests against the Oslo Accords. I was an activist for Zo Artzenu. I was also arrested during the protests. But I have undergone a change and today I do not agree with their opinions and with their extreme ideologies. It's not as though I accept the murderous acts of terrorists, but you can't ignore the fact that the Palestinians suffered," he said.
"Today I'm a man of peace," Skolnick continued. "No-one here is looking for confrontation with anyone. I'm careful not to get arrested, but I don't have a problem with getting arrests. I will be proud to tell my children one day that I was among those who were arrested in order to bring about world change," he said.
What exactly do the Wall Street protesters want?
"Wall Street is only one thing. We want a deep change. The government and congress deal with the interests of interest groups instead of concentrating on the larger problems facing the world today. Capitalists have taken over the state. Take for example the health insurance issue. There are 40 million people in the U.S. without health insurance. President Barack Obama promised, and wants, to give insurance to everyone but wealthy people didn’t agree and everything fell. CIA research showed a more severe lack of equality in the U.S. than in states like Tunisia and Egypt. Studies have shown that about 63% of the population supports us and 85% understand us."
People claim there is a lot of anti-Semitism there
"You see that guy?" says Skolnick, pointing at a man wearing a yellow jacket. "That's the guy that television crews filmed expressing anti-Semitism. You'll be surprised to know that man is Jewish. There is another guy who spoke that way and I think that there's something not quite right with him. He has a drug problem. The problem is that those interviews spread on the internet and create a sense that there is anti-Semitism here but it's really not true."
Representing the Americans
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began five weeks ago and is now found in 100 cities in the U.S., is a movement of young people. A survey recently published in the Wall Street Journal shows that 49% of protesters are under the age of 30. In addition, more than 28% of them are 40 years old or older. According to the survey, 15% of the protesters are unemployed, while the unemployment rate in the U.S. is 9.1%.
A new survey shows that the protesters are not against the government, but rather against the system: 48% of them will vote for Obama in the 2012 elections.
Despite that, the movement is already planning its next practical step: convening a general meeting in at the Cradle of Liberty in Philadelphia next summer, during which a "new declaration of independence" will be signed.