A Blossoming Israeli Social Revolution – A Reason for Hope
Picking up the LA Times this morning I was prepared to read about new economic disasters ranging from credit ratings downgrades, new GOP plans to protect the rich and corporation at the expense of the poor, middle and working class, and more insane ranting from extremist Tea Party members.
Instead, on the front page is a magnificent picture of tents lining a main thoroughfare in the Middle East. Under the picture is a headline stating, “A Tel Aviv protest over housing costs has become a small-scale utopian society and a challenge to the nation’s social order.”
Having been a leader in the tenants’ rights movement here in Los Angeles for over 3 decades and winning rent control in 2 cities, actually creating the City of West Hollywood to secure rent control and establishing a host of new renters’ rights strengthening housing code enforcement, increasing relocation benefits, preserving subsidized affordable housing, securing lead paint protections, requiring repairs and many others, I read the Israeli news report in absolute admiration and envy.
So while the world has been focused on the anti-government movements that sprang up during the Arab Spring, the largest protests in Israeli history have been sweeping the country for the past two months, threatening to destabilize the right-wing government with calls for significant reforms.
Last weekend, more than 150,000 people participated in a nationwide march to protest high housing costs.
These demonstrations have already had an impact. In response, as Israeli officials admit surprise at the strength and staying power of the protesters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced this week he was canceling a scheduled increase in the price of gasoline that was to have gone into effect Tuesday.
In 2003, while in Israel, I visited with a small group of protesters who pitched tents in a Tel Aviv park to protest evictions, the lack of jobs to acquire income to pay for rent and the need for more affordable housing. They called their movement “Loaf of Bread.”
Little did they or I know that they were the precursor to amazing events taking place today. For now hundreds of Israelis have pitched colorful tents along Tel Aviv’s trendy Rothschild Boulevard and hundreds of others have done the same in similar protests in cities across the country because they are fed up with the high cost of renting a home.
In addition, labor and union groups across the country are planning strikes throughout August.
Early Israeli governments were strongly influenced by socialist values. They built vast low-income housing projects and subsidized apartments for young couples across the country.
Unfortunately, today’s right-wing government, headed up by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and made up of political parties that are a combination of Republican, Tea Party, Ultra-Religious and Anti-Arab types, have driven the country away from it’s founding principles to one mainly preoccupied with oppressing the nation’s Arab population, denying Palestinians their own truly independent state, protecting illegal settlements and promoting expansion of new settlements, all at the expense of the nation’s economy and its people’s economic well being.
Netanyahu’s popularity has dropped to 32 percent, the lowest since he’s been in office, according to polls conducted by Israel’s Channel Two news. This is good news.
The hope that lies in these protests is that maybe they can lead to the toppling of the Netanyahu government and the establishment of a more progressive government that will not only address the economic rights of all the people of Israeli but also the human rights of Palestinians and other Arabs. If this would happen then maybe we could be on the road to peace in the Middle East. And then, these protests today would be historic in ways they never dreamed it would.