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The boundaries of Israeli unity

Two years ago, the rallying cry was "The people demand social justice", which was more open ended, proving its tenuousness in the question of Palestinian solidarity.

 

Sa'ar
23 May 2013

Two years ago, the Israeli public was beginning to stir over the rising costs of living. What began with boycotts over the increasing price of cottage cheese quickly turned into an encampment of Rothschild Boulevard, reflective of rent prices that had risen unabated since 2005. Demands (as well as signs and chants) echoed those of Israel's Arab neighbours who had also been demanding cheaper food and gasoline, higher wages, affordable housing, and better health and education systems. But while, in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and elsewhere, the one main unifying chant was the downfall of the regime, the J14 (or Rothschild Rebellions) never did get around to putting forward a One demand.

Though demands were posed disparately (and, of course, different issues proved more salient in different encampments), many criticized the protesters, who had  been expelled in October 2011 (and then again in late summer 2012), for having spent the hot summer in tents with nothing to show for it.

That is until this past January, when Yair Lapid, television journalist very sympathetic to the cause, unexpectedly came in second in the polls. That Yair Lapid is now the Finance Minister asking the public to accept $2billion and $5 billion in public spending cuts this year and next by cutting social programmes and increasing taxes on the middle and lower classes, has ensured, it seems, that the fruits of Spring will be protest once more. This past Wednesday, some 15,000 took to the streets in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem and Haifa in demonstrations against Lapid's budget. No doubt familiar faces, parties and sympathies. Here, Yair Lapid is more or less handing activists their one demand on a platter: a more just budget.

Two years ago, the rallying cry was "The people demand social justice", which was more open ended, proving its tenuousness in the question of Palestinian solidarity. Instead, the focus was on unity, and explicitly, the Rothschild camp was 'non-political'. As Greg Burris wrote in the midst of J14 2011,

"The various left-leaning supporters of the Rothschild Boulevard rebellion who defend the exclusion of the Palestinian issue in the name of Israeli unity have it all wrong. Unity does not mean coming together with occupation supporters and land-usurping settlers. Rather, real unity would mean crossing that much tabooed Jewish-Arab, Israeli-Palestinian divide."

It was an interesting sight to see in Tel Aviv on Saturday night: the contingents of Arab-Israeli political parties in the midst of a revival of the J14 movement, and the slogans calling Israel and Palestine one Struggle. Whether J14 will again be co-opted or removed or maintain this reconsidered formulation of unity, whether they will shift to a more open framework of solidarity without parties, or decide on political alliances - a counter-coalition - is yet to be seen. 

Occupy Wall Street fashioned a call to arms of the 99 Percent, a declaration of identity which appeared on signs and in chants this weekend. Maybe coalitions, and unity with it, are forming along alternative, overlapping lines. With the Naqba's commemoration day this past week and ongoing demonstrations surrounding the inclusion of Orthodox Jews in the Israeli army, the politics of identity might come to mount great tidal shifts in mainstream politics. We can't know what the summer will bring, but one thing now seems certain: it will take shape in the streets.

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