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Israel: Mass movement erupts against the rule of capital
Shahar Ben-Khorin, Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI Israel/Palestine)
300,000 people flooded the streets of Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities in Israel on 6 August 2011 roaring: "The people demand social justice!" - echoing the slogans of the revolutionary upheavals in the Arab World.
It was the largest ever demonstration in Israel.
With officially low unemployment and a growing economy, Israel is now shaken by an historic mass movement. Not yet by the oppressed Palestinian masses, but mainly by Israeli Jews, putting support for the regime into question.
What is left of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's words of the end of March?: "There's only one country in the heart of the Middle East that has no tremors, no protests...
"the only stable place, the only stable country, is this democracy Israel."
Netanyahu's government admitted offering Mubarak a political refuge in Israel. Now, militant youth are shouting at roadblocks: "Mubarak-Assad-Bibi Netanyahu!" - indicating their wish to see the toppling of the Israeli face of the dictatorship of capital.
Partially influenced by the movements in southern Europe, a few protest tents were set up by a group of middle class youth in the rich Rothschild Avenue in central Tel-Aviv on 14 July against the high cost of housing.
Their initiative became the signal to open the floodgates for the long accumulated revulsion against the heavy cost of living and the rule of capital in the country.
Within days, there was talk among government officials that the coming social protest might bring down the government.
In tents across the country there are discussions on the way to change society and people everywhere dare to think of a different, brighter future. It is not a revolutionary situation but everybody would agree on the need for a 'social revolution' for 'social justice'.
A few weeks before the 'tents protest' began a successful mass symbolic boycott of cottage cheese [an Israeli staple food], organised via Facebook, forced the milk industry to reduce its price.
But it took the blinking of an eye for the idea of a consumer boycott bringing a solution to the heavy cost of living to be put to one side and replaced by a strategy of active mass protests, with tents, protest marches, road blocks, etc.
Protest tents spread like mushrooms after rain all across the country. They have become the magnet for almost all other social protests that have united in this dramatic movement, which is drawing many into the first protests of their life - not only youth and kids, but also parents.
During the 300,000-strong demo, 'leftist' sports fans set up a building-high giant poster of a soldier from the Russian Revolution with the English title 'working class'.
The government juggled its tactics for coping with the movement. It zigzagged between failing to contain it, and then appearing sympathetic to it, and then returning again to blunt arrogance and incitement.
The movement as a whole does not yet clearly demand the bringing down of the government, but none of the government's tactics actually worked. The attempt to accelerate the privatisation of land (held in majority by the state) and to hand it out almost for free to the real estate sharks, stirred up an outcry across the movement, making it grow stronger.
From around 30,000 at the central demo after the first week, it grew within a week to five times bigger when parallel protests where held across the country.
Another week and 300,000 were mobilised!
From the early stages, there was a significant layer of protesters reaching the conclusion that all the various demos were not enough in themselves against this government and strike action was necessary.
Within days 20,000 joined a Facebook call for an all-out individuals' strike on 1 August. The organisation of local authorities, controlled by the capitalist mayors, was swept in to join in the initiative and hold partial shutdowns on that date in order to increase pressure on the government to solve the crisis.
Finally, the dormant Histadrut, the main workers' organisation, was dragged into the movement.
Sensing the mood, the Histadrut chairman Offer Eini, highly influential in his 'Labour' Party, began his intervention by trying to paint himself in radical colours, attacking all previous governments.
He praised the young leaders of the protest, and threatened the government that the Histadrut would use its entire means if the government did not begin to take seriously the protesters' demands.
But as soon as those demands took the shape of calls for radical reforms, including free public education and health, Eini outrageously joined the capitalist choir by ridiculing these demands as groundless and "unpractical".
He also emphasised that the protesters needed to respect the prime minister and that he hoped that the government would not fall!
In recent years, the right-wing pro-capitalist collaborationist leadership under Eini has led a declared policy of industrial peace and brought the number of strikes in Israel to an historical low.
Against this background, the very limited rally of 10,000 workers organised by the Histadrut was nevertheless a rare event. At the rally, Eini paid some hypocritical lip-service to the rage against the rapid deterioration of working conditions in recent decades.
This was too much for some of the dock workers, the bay lifeguards and others who were standing along with Socialist Struggle Movement (CWI) activists.
They shouted: "Workers demand a general strike!" and shouted against the hypocrisy of this false leader. These shouts were forcefully drowned out by the 'Zionist socialist' No`al youth who were there.
For a significant layer of the organised working class, Eini and his likes are hated for the policies of betrayal that they promote. With the increased costs of living biting, different workers groups began to take the route of struggle in recent months before the current movement.
Social workers even rebelled loudly and unprecedentedly against an attempt to dictate a sell-out agreement to them by Eini following their strike in March.
This led to the setting up of an opposition movement inside the social workers union.
In parallel, inside the Histadrut, for quite some time there has been a trend of workers mostly threatening, and at times fulfilling, to take the route of leaving to join the new small militant union 'Power to the Workers'.
These trends are initial signs of the potential for development of an independent workers' movement for the first time in Israel.
The Socialist Struggle Movement promotes the call for an active warning 24-hour general strike by the Histadrut, and calls upon workers' committees to become directly involved in the protests wherever possible, and to discuss the demands of the movement and its possible next steps, including partial strikes.
Significantly, a few Arab-Palestinian tents were set up - using the momentum to raise demands for decent housing and against the nationalist-racist discrimination which inflicts the worst housing problems upon the Palestinian and Arab population of Israel.
If the protest movement does not embrace a solidarity approach with the Palestinian masses and against the occupation and settlements, it will tend eventually to sharply split when facing an escalation of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians or Israel and the countries in the region.
A warning sign has been given with the infiltration of far-right elements that disguise and leech upon the movement, whip up nationalism, promote the settlements enterprise, and viciously incite against Arab-Palestinians, African refugees and immigrant workers.
A joint Jewish-Arab protest march by impoverished neighbourhoods from Southern Tel-Aviv, Jaffa and other locations was cancelled following threats by the far-right Kahanists.
Joint Jewish-Arab tents in Tel-Aviv were subjected to physical attacks. Effective cleansing of such reactionary elements could be successful only through the open adoption of the ideas of a united solidarity struggle between all the exploited and oppressed, Jews and Palestinians, and of opposition to racism and the occupation.
Without a clear socialist alternative on the table, many have nostalgia for the past quasi-welfare state in Israel, as working and living conditions were massively more secure.
But even with that vague and unrealisable concept of 'correcting' Israeli capitalism, there is confusion.
There is obviously growing support for the ideas of the need for strike action, the need for a 'different' party to represent the voice of such struggles, the need to drastically cut indirect taxes, and the need for the government to intervene for affordable housing.
Yet the demands for nationalisation and for strong steps against the tycoons are not central. One of the youth who organised the central Tel-Aviv tents and, incidentally, became one of the leaders of the movement, has declared over and over that solutions to the problems should involve the "free market".
Though it is still unclear how far it will go, this great movement, the great rebellion against the rule of capital, is in many senses just the beginning.
One of the best fruits of this movement is the leap in interest in genuine socialist and Marxist ideas as serious solutions for a bankrupt society.
The Jewish and Palestinian members of the Socialist Struggle Movement are intervening around the clock in the movement to contribute to it as much as possible, including slogans for solidarity between Jewish and Palestinian workers and youth, and against the occupation and for peace.