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Occupation magazine - Activism

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RESURRECTION OF OLD WORDS?
Zvi Schuldiner
10.8.11


After the end of the Soviet Union, the “happy” years of Thatcher and Reagan, people started to believe that there is only one successful recipe in economy: the free market. Slowly but surely it become a new religion, the religion of the free market, privatize everything, destroy the unions, reduce the taxes, there is no society, only individuals, destroy solidarity, reduce governments and public sector. It`s the end of communism, the welfare state should die.



Tunis, and then Tahrir-Cairo, months of protest in Spain, Greece and now Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and small cities in Israel. The 2009 crisis in the USA is alive again and suddenly old words from the past resuscitate.



PM Netanyahu is well known internationally because of his extreme right wing policy as to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the economic field, Netanyahu is a dogmatic pupil of Thatcher and the neoconservatives in general. Since his first term as PM in 1996-99, as finance minister in 2003-2005 and now he strongly believes that growth is the answer to everything, he still wants to reduce even more the taxes to the rich and companies and dismantle the welfare state.



In Israel, after the severe economic crisis in 1985 policy makers began
the implementation of the IMF`s and neoconservatives` recipes. Licud or Labor, most of the political arena was dominated by the church of the believers in the free market religion. Privatization, taxes, less education, health, public services. The welfare state was alive only in the occupied territories: tens of billions of dollars were invested in housing and public services to strengthen the colonial project, even when it was clear –and for the right wing because it was clear - that that will be the main obstacle to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.



Leftists and peaceniks in Israel


After 1967, the opposition to the official policies of governments was mainly connected to the question of peace and the occupied territories. Only few and small groups in the peace camp were aware of, or referred to socio-economic questions. It was easy to define all these “leftists” as enemies of the people. Many of these “leftists” were in fact part of the right wing conceptions in the economic field. To be “left” was understood by many only as related to the question of peace and territories, “a leftist is in general a friend of the enemies and he doesn’t care about common people, about the Jews”



Invisible-underground currents


The social workers` long strike ended when the Histadrut (Central Workers Organization) helped to mediate with the government. The new contract was bad for young workers or for workers in the great sector of NGOs. They tried to rebel but they failed. After 140 days of conflict, young doctors don’t accept the main contract that the medical union wants to sign with the government.
Various alternative unions seem to be the alternative to the problematic Histadrut that mainly worked to keep “social harmony” and frequently acted against the interests of poor workers.



Besides the known privatizations (selling public enterprises and outsourcing of services) there is something much more subtle: the government provides fewer services –education, health, housing – and people must buy them in the market. The deterioration of the educational and health systems, the fact that public housing was provided only in the occupied territories, all this together started to erode the public perception that “the situation is excellent”, the growth was there, Israel didn’t suffer from the 2009 economic crisis, but the millionaires and billionaires flourished and inequality grew seriously. Even when people received some increase in their salaries, this wasn’t enough to cover the increasing cost of living when the welfare state almost disappears.


A modest call to stop buying the “cottage cheese” because of the incredible high price was suddenly very successful and the three firms that dominate the market were compelled to capitulate even partially. Here and there in the last months when people spoke about social change, it was possible to hear “Tahrir”...the example of young people able to change an autocratic corrupt regime became meaningful.

Some young people concerned about the problem of housing prices established some tents in a very central street in Tel Aviv and in a few days the fire extended all over the country. Then people began to discuss not only the question of housing. Suddenly social justice, welfare state, taxation everything started to be part of the debate. Voices that we didn’t here in the last tens of years become part of the public political arena.

In the last 40 years, I never participated in a demonstration like the one of last Saturday. The settlers and right wing tried to delegitimize the activists “they are spoiled representatives of the elites, there are anti national, etc” but it didn’t work. 200 thousand people attended the Tel Aviv demonstration and we were 30 thousand in the very problematic-right wing and extremely religious Jerusalem. I was walking together with religious and non-religious people, oriental and not oriental Jews. Simple workers and professors of the Hebrew University. People shouting `we want social justice`, `against privatization, in favor of public housing`, `in favor of the welfare state`. Even more surprising: a group with posters saying `Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies`, `Jews and Arabs refuse to be slaves`! Also surprising was that among the various speakers who got strong ovations from the demonstrators was the Palestinian Israeli writer Saed Kashua who was equally applauded while some of us were afraid that the right wingers will disturb the dominant sense of solidarity.



Optimism? No, pesoptimism –in the words of Emil Habibi. The road will be very difficult. The threats are there: the American new economic crisis, foreign minister Lieberman announces that the Palestinians are preparing a terrible bloodshed, while the army speaks about very moderate winds in the Palestinian Authority!

There are no political parties capable to take up the challenge and to move forward, but something very essential changed in these days in Israel even if it`s still unclear if the left will be able to say that social justice should include also the occupied Palestinians, that without peace and the end of the colonial project in the territories occupied in 1967 social justice will remain a dream.

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