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International Community and Civil Society

13.08.2021

A change in the discourse and the emergence of community initiatives

Part II: From Tent Cities to the COVID-19 Protests: Two Social Protests in Israel from the Eyes of the Activists

The four activists have varied viewpoints on the changes brought about by the protest. “Prior to the protest of 2011, nobody dealt with the socioeconomic issues outside the financial press,” says Neuman. “It was really shameful for people to say ‘I’m having trouble financially’ and ‘I can’t pay the rent’, that’s a bubble we burst, and it’s stuck to this day. Even the involvement of civil entities in Israeli politics has entirely changed. On the other hand, Israel’s economic system hasn’t fundamentally changed. The gaps haven’t changed, and money still works for the few at the top. The system is trying to correct things, but those attempts are lacking and superficial.”

Rabinovitz says that many of the protest’s activists chose to change the course of their life to make social change from within the system. “Our generation, that felt it had a say, went through something. There were those who pushed toward more anarchistic directions. I was the voice that said we had to be the police officer at the roadblock, the schoolteacher, to be the social worker, to change from the inside. Many people, as a life choice, dedicate their lives to social change.”

Klar points to networks of community organizations which emerged following the protest. “Our encampment birthed a local community which meets up and acts to create social justice in the city, and also takes part in national struggles. We gave lectures at pubs, we were involved in the city’s struggles. We initiated courses such as economics and society for women, community organizers, mediators, and every one of those courses led to the formation of a group of activists. During the COVID-19 quarantine, we created the ‘Isolation Without Loneliness’ project, which operated hundreds of volunteers to help elderly people in their neighborhoods who couldn’t leave the house.

Amer, too, tells of the formation of local activist groups. “A year or two later, we’d meet up at social justice demonstrations. I took part, with one of my friends, in finding a solution for homeless people who had found their place with us at the encampment.” He himself took part in the strike and demonstrations led by Israel’s social workers in the summer of 2020. “We struggle and fight not just for our rights as workers, but also for the welfare state and social services.”

“COVID revealed the need of a welfare state”

The economic protests which arose in Israel at the start of the COVID-19 outbreak bear a striking similarity to the 2011 protest, but also differ from it in several ways. “The coronavirus period showed everyone that what we’d talked about at the encampment in 2011, that citizens had no safety net, came to pass,” says Neuman. “At the time, we’d said that if a single paycheck doesn’t come through, you’d collapse. That’s what we’re seeing in the streets now. Citizens have no social safety net, and that has to be made right. Despite that, in the tent protest we tried to show people the way toward a model society, and see how we could make the country better for everyone. Nowadays people just want to survive.”

As a PR man, Neuman is also involved in the ‘Black Flags’ protest, which acted to have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu step down due to being suspected of criminal offenses. According to him, that’s “taking a great many steps backward” from the aspired vision. “In the tent protest, we talked about making Israel a better place, but the Black Flags are fighting for the foundations of democracy. Had you told me in 2011 that that would be the subject of our protest in 2020, it would have sounded completely outlandish to me.”

Klar stresses the need of comprehensive protest, as opposed to past protests led separately by various publics in Israel. “COVID revealed the need of a welfare state; from the elderly people left to fend for themselves, to people pushed into poverty. It won’t work unless our protests join forces. As long as the system is that of a “short blanket” and we pull on that blanket toward the people who shout the loudest, then the weakened will only get weaker. What we need is trust between people, and belief that things can and should be better here for everyone.”


“Don’t give up”

This is the advice the 2011 protest’s activists give to today’s protest leaders:

Rabinovitz: “What the protest made me realize is that we’re allowed to be political people in the deep sense of the word. To speak up when there’s a social wrong, an injustice, when something bad happens to another person. We have to join up – that changes reality.”

Neuman: “Don’t believe any promise and don’t give up, as exhausting and difficult as that may be. After one week of the 2011 protest, Netanyahu called a press conference and promised to give discounts on housing. So he promised, and none of it ended up happening. You have to realize that making a promise and keeping it are two different things.”

Klar: “To lovingly accept the fact that this is the start of a journey and that there are no shortcuts. If you want to make a profound change, you have to gather the people one by one and build a community of partners. To strengthen the solidarity between the divided parts of society by engendering trust, on the level of specific people, with names and faces who know each other’s children.”

Amer: “To go on standing our ground and not to give up. To be strong, determined and motivated. As long as it takes. That’s the greatest tip I can give.”


Konstantin Bärwaldt

+49 30 269 35-7501

Konstantin.Baerwaldt(at)fes.de
 

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