Opinion

Why Israelis Must Keep Protesting (Even if They're Oblivious to the Occupation)

Sure, the demonstrators in Tel Aviv aren’t rushing to join anti-occupation groups, but taking to the streets opposing the erosion of democracy for Jews is still important

Israelis protesting against the erosion of Israeli democracy, December 9, 2017.
Tomer Appelbaum

The hierarchy – the organization of people and groups according to their importance, wealth, beauty, knowledge, power, effectiveness, etc. – seems so natural that we rarely question or think about it. The order into which we are born says competition to reach the next level in the hierarchy is healthy, and it’s just the way of the world that some people and groups cannot make it to the next level.

Rankings are at the heart of the practice of domination. The fight for a place at every level is good for the rulers and serves their class, as it does employers in the public and business sectors. It is not for nothing that unionizing in the workplace irritates employers and managers. It works against the vertical principle, which isolates any climber from his colleague and turns them into rivals. The more the ones below and between the levels quarrel, the more the ones above act like superiors.

The more we talk about a successful or unsuccessful individual, or the group and its hereditary characteristics, the less we talk about the role of history and society in the act of ranking, and the economy that funnels down students, employees and women in order to perpetuate class, social and gender stratification.

And though we already know that the ranking process is neither neutral nor spontaneous, it is still hard for us to imagine a world that does not operate according to the competitive rules of hierarchy – and we even apply them to our human actions.

My colleague Gideon Levy placed the demonstrations against the bill to silence the police at the bottom of worthy social protests. Levy wrote, rightfully so, that there are many good, urgent reasons to take to the streets: Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem; besieged Gaza; the plan to deport African refugees. “The hatred for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu jolted a third of a percent of Israelis from their indifference,” he wrote.

Where are the millions who will demonstrate for the truly deserving goals, Levy asks, and not for the first time.

But if millions of Israelis were to demonstrate against a bill to jail opponents of the occupation for seven years, it would not be the same Israel. Perhaps there also wouldn’t be such a bill in the first place; Benjamin Netanyahu and Avi Gabbay would be private citizens; and maybe the occupation would not have lasted until today.

But in the democracy for Jews called Israel, most Jews have voted, and continue to vote, for taking over more of the Palestinian expanse because we Jews profit from it. As a result, the majority does not see the occupation as a crime, an injustice and an evil. It hurts, it’s bitter and it’s outrageous, but in the meantime that’s a given.

Because Israel is a democracy for Jews, the few opponents of the occupation among us use our privileges as Jews in order to oppose the regime that grants privileges to Jews. This democracy is being eroded, and even more quickly under the reign of Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. And yet we can still resist in relative safety.

True, Ta’ayush activists are physically assaulted and arrested because they accompany Palestinian shepherds and farmers whom settlers want to oust. True, Breaking the Silence is subject to calculated incitement campaigns, and even the Association for Civil Rights in Israel is targeted. But our situation is far from the lot of apartheid opponents and Soviet dissidents who paid with their lives, freedoms and livelihoods.

Haaretz can publish incriminating information about the occupation, critical analyses and biting opinions. Websites Haokets and +972 disseminate a variety of subversive thoughts and information that are absent in mainstream media. B’Tselem continues to document. Hamoked defends basic human rights like access to fields or family homes in Jerusalem. And Machsom Watch tries to help Palestinians deal with the bureaucracy of evil. Jews can still do all of this, and even more, in a democracy for Jews.

As a result of the occupation, most demonstrators on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and in Rabin Square refuse to understand that Israel is not a democracy because it rules over some 4 million Palestinians who are bereft of rights and routinely dispossessed, and about 2 million who are second-class citizens.

However, any act that defies the arbitrariness of those with power and authority may expand the horizon of understanding the modes of oppression.

Each success, even the tiniest one, proves that a public that bands together has power and sows some doubt in the wisdom of government. It may also send signals to cowardly prosecutors and MKs, encourage others and perhaps also cause a few people to see connections between different types of injustice and power.

It is important to create as many cracks as possible in the façade of national unity and collective complacency. Let the ultra-Orthodox (or Haredim) demonstrate against the draft and those with disabilities protest for fair benefits, for Mizrahi Jews to expose racism and for women to fight against objectification.

Everyone is spread horizontally in the realm of social opposition to power centers and methods of exploitation, rather than vertically in an invented ladder of purity. People can meet and learn from each other in this realm – while on the ladder they only bicker, push and stumble to the pleasure of the boss. Any defiance against the power holders is appropriate (right-wing demonstrations demanding more oppression are not acts of defiance).

True, the demonstrators in Rothschild and Rabin Square are not joining Ta’ayush. They are taking to the streets to oppose the erosion of democracy for Jews. I only hope this erosion process will be as slow as possible – it’s impossible to stop it altogether in the Shaked-Bennett-Lieberman era – because worse is not better, only worse and more dangerous.