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The two major demonstrations held here recently attracted different participants, but they nevertheless had a common denominator: the illusion that life in Israel can continue as if the country were on a distant, independent planet.

It's convenient for most Israelis to ignore the fact that all of society's weaknesses are interconnected. But if the people really "demand social justice" - that is, justice for itself - then it must understand it won't get it without justice for all.

It's no accident that our colonialist and neoconservative society is one of the most unequal in the Western world, second only to the United States. It's also no accident that the demonstrators didn't go out to do battle under the slogan "justice for all," because justice and equality are universal values, and not everyone who gathered in the square opposite the Tel Aviv Museum is truly interested in such values. For many, first and foremost the National Student Union, a localized "justice" that goes no farther than cheap mortgages, construction of rental housing, a long school day in the public schools and stipends for university students can certainly live side-by-side with ethnic discrimination, the gross denial of basic human rights to non-Jews and a brutal, violent, colonialist regime in the territories.

Thus, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, the Israeli center-left has nothing in common with social democracy, a term that reflects a synthesis between the best of socialism and the best of liberalism. Socialism and liberalism are compatible by virtue of their moral and intellectual content, and they are united in seeing man as the ultimate goal of all social and political activities. In the social democratic view, the state is not an end in itself, but a means of realizing human rights. Consequently, social democracy cannot accept the denial of rights to any human being. In our reality, that means Israeli citizens who aren't Jewish, migrants who aren't citizens, and the occupied population in the territories. But the center-left has no interest in any of these, and therefore, its politics doesn't deserve the name of social democracy.

First and foremost, of course, this applies to the Labor Party. This party, based on the goals defined by party leader MK Shelly Yacimovich, is little more than a nationalist party with social concerns whose moral worldview is similar to that of Likud. Even the fact that maintenance of the occupation comes at the expense of the welfare state doesn't bother it. Yacimovich's claim that we should stop defining right and left in terms of war and peace and focus instead on social issues distorts the very essence of social democracy and openly serves the right's goals. Moreover, it requires a special kind of obtuseness to believe that the issue of Israel's warped social relationships can be solved by drafting the ultra-Orthodox and sending the Arabs to do civilian national service.

The truth is that the battle over drafting the ultra-Orthodox lacks any real significance, while requiring young Arabs to do civilian service is mere snake oil. In exchange for the generous government support they receive, the ultra-Orthodox should first of all be required to prepare themselves to work in a modern economy by starting to learn math, science, English and history. Only later, if ever, should they learn nighttime navigation and the procedure for arresting a suspect.

Similarly, anyone who wants the Arabs to be integrated should first end the occupation and invest in Arab society and in infrastructure in Arab towns. Once that happens, they'll enlist in the army voluntarily, because they'll understand what others have discovered long since: The army is an unparalleled tool for rapid social advancement.

The bottom line is that the real battle must be waged simultaneously against the occupation, which empties Israeli society of all its moral content and undermines the quality of life in peripheral communities, and against neoconservatism and the religion of the market economy. There is no way to separate these two faces of the same reality.