August 31, 2011

Dana and Blumenthal do Tel Aviv

Joseph Dana and Max Blumenthal published their promised article on the J14 protest movement, and it is disappointing. The only part of Israel they see is the Ashkenazi middle class of Tel Aviv. That, the protest of that sector, which started the #J14 events, they dismiss as nothing more than an attempt to return to the Zionism of the “good old days.” Fair enough. Everything they say about the limitations of the protest movement, I agree. Although their attempt to offer a pop psychology of the “radical Israeli left” (two people, to be precise) should have been beneath them.

Then there is the bad part. Look at whom they interview, there is a media professional, a mainstream journalist, a young labor apparatchik, a think tank fellow. That is Israeli society? Tent protests happened all the way from Sderot to Kyriat Shmone, places as far in social outlook from Rothschild Blvd as Gary Indiana is from East Village. Even in Tel Aviv they were multiple protests, of very different social make up. Dana and Blumenthal note how the Rothschild encampment chose its location to resonate with the Zionist narrative. Yet veteran Mizrahi activists set up an alternative camp near the “New” central station, amidst piss poor residents, emaciated sex workers, Sudanese refugees and foreign laborers, picking a pre 1948 Arab-Jewish neighborhood destroyed by Zionist “development” as a counter-historical symbol of the crushing brutality and racism of Zionism in Tel Aviv itself. The authors apparently were in Tel Aviv, so why not interview activists who specifically decided against joining the Rothschild camp? Dana is Israeli and Blumenthal is American. Why is it that the only Israel they notice, the only people they care to ask for their opinion, even if only to dismiss them, are the Ashkenazi middle class of Tel Aviv? Is it because these are the people in Israel who are most like themselves?

Then there is the question of expectations. They challenge the idea that this protest movement could "initiate a process that will eventually lead to the unraveling of the occupation and discrimination against Palestinians." There are no doubt those in Israel, as well as in the world, who want to see Israelis leading the movement for Palestinian liberation. It is therefore essential to repeat a thousand times. Only a Palestinian led movement can liberate Palestinians. Besides, Palestinians have already initiated that process. So there is nothing for #J14 to initiate. But unless the Palestinian strategy involves new weapons coming out of science fiction movies, changing Israeli consciousness is going to be part of the struggle and part of the victory. That cannot happen overnight. It will be a process. Nor can it happen of itself. Activists are going to be an essential ingredient, and they will have to have strategies of engaging with that process that is going to be messy and often unpleasant. Israelis cannot see the occupation. That some of them might be able to see the state’s war against the Bedouins, perhaps for the first time, matters. That’s what a process means. This by no means implies that the process has a predetermined direction. On the contrary, the odds are bad, all the exits are in the wrong direction, and it would take both labor and luck to steer it anywhere better. Radical left activists in Israel only stand a chance of succeeding to turn their society around if BDS succeeds in the West and if the Arab revolutions really fulfill their promises, which is far from guaranteed. These different tracks impact each other even if they are not communicating with each other. This is what the petulant keyboard brigadiers like Yossi Gurvits, who whine about lacking “solidarity,” don’t understand, that what the left in Israel (the real left) needs most, is not a pat on the back, but our success in all the struggles that relate to Israel. On the other hand, it could probably do without being criticized for not staying home and watching TV.

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