The Real Social Justice Movement

True, a 99 percent-strong J14 might only be able to assemble tens of thousands of dedicated activists. But that's more than enough to occupy the entire Knesset.

David Sheen
David Sheen
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David Sheen
David Sheen

The organizers of Israel's social protests feared that renewed fire between the Israel Defense Forces and Gaza militants would cool enthusiasm for the cause. But while Palestinian attacks in southern Israel may have reduced the size of recent demonstrations, it may have been a Jewish attack on Arabs in the north that reveals why some say the movement's moral significance is declining.

Only hours after activists hoped to launch a new round of popular protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a gang of Jews drummed a group of Arabs out of their rented apartment in Safed. The Arab Israeli teenagers had just moved into the flat, and were about to start a semester at the local Zefat Academic College. The Jewish landlord brushed off the edict of the town's chief rabbi to refuse to rent to Arabs, but he caved in to the theocratic thugs who threatened him with violence if he didn't evict the offending Gentiles.

It has been almost a year since dozens of chief municipal rabbis instructed Israeli Jews to "show no mercy" to the Gentiles in their midst, quoting the biblical verses wherein the Israelites' god instructs them to ethnically cleanse the Land of Canaan, Deuteronomy 7:1-2. Yet there were no media reports of solidarity protests with Safed's Arabs, nor were there any condemnations of the rabbis or calls from protest leaders for the government to cut off their salaries.

Most Israelis seem unwilling to acknowledge that although a lot of them find it increasingly difficult to secure housing, it's much more difficult for one specific group: non-Jews. Though the movement brown-washed itself by including Arab faces and voices, it never defended their interests by demanding an end to religious and race-based housing discrimination.

When this critique was raised earlier on, equal-opportunity activists were told it would be strategically unwise. When they begged their fellow protesters to publicly insist on protection of civil rights for all, regardless of race or religion, they were counseled to be patient. But months passed, and these basic axioms were never championed in any public forum.

As the summer heat died down, Tel Aviv City Council agreed to negotiate with the city's seven protest camps, with the exception of Levinsky Park, which was occupied mainly by non-Jewish African refugees. Instead of walking out in solidarity, representatives of the other tent camps abandoned the asylum-seekers to their fate. In the end, it didn't win them any reprieves when the repo men confiscated the possessions of every last Rothschild tent-dweller. Most of those protesters had homes to go back to, while the denizens of Levinsky were tossed into the streets.

The sun set on the Israeli summer, without the social protest winning any tangible victories. But it was soon followed by an American autumn that continues to grow. Within less than two weeks, a general assembly of New York City activists, using no electrical amplification, hammered out a manifesto articulating protesters' grievances. These included not only an end to economic concentration and political corruption, but also to rampant militarism, colonialism, racism and wanton environmental destruction. Occupy Wall Street has demanded no less than equal rights for the whole 99 percent.

On September 11, the Israeli government decided to evict 30,000 Israeli-Arab Bedouin from their homes and lands. Any day now, the Prawer Plan will be presented in the Knesset, essentially paving the way for more ethnic cleansing.

This will be the most critical test for these social protests, maybe even for this entire generation. Will the July 14 movement continue to ignore the housing needs of the non-Jewish minority - 24 percent within the Green Line, or 42 percent if you include the West Bank - or will it rise to the occasion and become a true movement of the 99 percent?

If July 14 aspires to be a social justice movement of the entire Israeli society, and not only the dominant, dominating ethnic group, it must make its voice heard in no uncertain terms and state that housing is an inalienable human right. A real social justice movement would occupy the offices of the chief rabbis if they do not rescind their racist edicts against renting to Arabs and Africans, or until their funds are completely cut off. A real social justice movement would occupy the offices of Interior Minister Eli Yishai until he grants work visas to all asylum-seekers, so they can afford apartments and don't have to be homeless.

A real social justice movement would stave off the impending dispossession of the Negev's indigenous population and occupy the offices of Ehud Prawer, the architect of the pernicious plan. True, if the movement openly embraces the idea that housing is a human right, not the privilege of any one particular caste, it's likely that public support would diminish from the reported 88 percent that it enjoyed at its apex. But real social justice is absolute, not a popularity contest. True, a 99 percent-strong J14 might only be able to assemble tens of thousands of dedicated activists. But that's more than enough to occupy the entire Knesset.

David Sheen is a reporter for Haaretz English Edition and a content editor for



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