Occupation at the Corner of Wall Street and Rothschild

As in the Israeli demand for 'social justice', the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be hitting a very raw nerve in American society, one that some politicians appear to be keenly unaware of.

Anarchists. Socialists. Crackheads. Sex Fiends. This is just a small sampling of choice terms that have been used in recent days by ideological opponents to describe the ringleaders of the “Occupy Wall Street” group.

And they are almost a carbon copy of the labels that were attached to the organizers of this summer’s social protest in Israel, when they first started out, before they turned their little tent-city sleep-in in Tel Aviv into a mass movement, the likes of which Israel had never seen.

Tel Aviv protest July 23, 2011
David Bachar

So, even though the very attempt to compare the social and economic situations in Israel and America may seem ludicrous at first, some of the parallel story lines developing in lower Manhattan’s Financial District, where the OWS is encamped, and around Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, where Israel’s J14 movement was born, are as eerily similar as to beggar belief.

The anti-capitalist movement has no clear-cut leaders or goals? Neither did Israel’s social agitators, at least in their early days, until they got their act together and had concentration thrust upon them.

George Soros is funding Occupy Wall Street, as Rush Limbaugh asserts? In Israel, Soros was also mentioned, along with Slim-Fast billionaire and peace activist Danny Abraham, and inevitably, the “sinister” New Israel Fund.

The “Tea Party” is miffed that someone else is taking center stage? So too were the Jewish settlers, perplexed by those hitherto-lethargic secularists who were suddenly shouting up Saturday nights in Tel Aviv.

The Occupy Wall Street leaders are anti-Semites, as some conservative pundits claim? In Israel they were the closest current equivalent –leftists, dear god - or even worse, anti-Zionists. The evidence? A flag here, a quote there, an article published long ago.

And – it almost goes without saying - in both cases the “liberal media” were exaggerating the extent of the protests in an effort to undermine the country and reinstate Trotskyite socialism, as is their wont.

Of course, it may very well be that some of the people who have been sleeping in tents for days on end are indeed anarchic addicts of debauchery - and a cursory glance at some of the residents of Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park on Saturday definitely yielded some likely contenders - but that’s not really the point, is it?. As in the Israeli demand for “social justice”, the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to be hitting a very raw nerve in American society, one that some politicians appear to be keenly unaware of. As a poll in this week’s Time Magazine revealed, most Americans view the OWS movement favorably, and, more importantly, an overwhelming majority agree with its stated aims.

In both countries, the über-free market – dubbed in Israel “swinish capitalism” – appears to many people to have run amok. In both countries, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle classes are getting crushed in between. In Israel, four or five tycoons along with ten or twenty rich and powerful families control the entire economy, while in America, so the protestors claim, the rich get bailed out while the majority gets sold out.

In Israel, much of the protest was directed against the government in general and against Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular, for his role - much lauded at the time - in freeing the country from stifling regulation. It was also Netanyahu who was able to deftly defuse the protest movement by appointing respected professor Manuel Trajtenberg to head a committee proposing reform.

But in America the political and the financial situations are much more complex, of course. Nonetheless, it has been the “opposition” Republican Party and its supporters in the media that have been the most vocally vehement in their denunciation of the protestors (“mobs”, as Jewish Congressman Eric Cantor dubbed them), while the Administration has been keeping its distance, awaiting more information on the direction of the wind.

Because beyond the natural ideological aversion to such “anti-capitalist” agitation, the Republicans might also fear a more immediate danger lurking ahead: should the OWS protests truly catch fire and sweep the despondent American middle class, the current deep dissatisfaction with the Obama Administration might suddenly be tunneled towards the party that continues to describe any proposal to tax even the hideously rich as “class warfare” and “socialism in disguise”. At the start of the home stretch of an election year, that’s the last thing the Republicans need.


Follow Chemi Shalev on Twitter @ChemiShalev