Wall Street Protest Can't Match Israeli Tent Cities, For Now

Letter From Wall Street

Not Like Tel Aviv, Yet: The protesters camped out on Wall Street haven’t brought American capitalism to its knees yet. A veteran of the Israeli tent city protests says they started small, too.
Josh Nathan-Kazis
Not Like Tel Aviv, Yet: The protesters camped out on Wall Street haven’t brought American capitalism to its knees yet. A veteran of the Israeli tent city protests says they started small, too.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published September 30, 2011, issue of October 07, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It was one day after New York City police arrested scores of left-wing demonstrators during a march on Manhattan’s Union Square, and the ranks were dwindling at the protesters’ downtown encampment.

A member of the group offered a weather forecast extending to the end of the week — not a minor consideration for the activists, who gathered on September 25 in the plaza they had occupied for a week and in which they intended to stay put.

To Ronen Eidelman, a 40-year-old Israeli activist who helped organize the massive tent protests that rocked Israel this past summer, the young, largely white crowd was a little underwhelming.

Ronen Eidelman
Josh Nathan-Kazis
Ronen Eidelman

“It’s very easy to come here and be cynical — a bunch of white kids with laptops playing revolution,” Eidelman said of the anti-corporate activists. But he added, “That’s also what they said on the first days of the Rothschild protest.”

Eidelman spent 6 weeks, on and off, sleeping in a tent this summer. He showed up at the first protest camp on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv within three days of its founding, then moved to establish a satellite camp in the immigrant neighborhood near the Central Bus Station in southern Tel Aviv.

The movement sparked by Israel’s tent cities grew, over the course of three months, into the largest social protests in Israel in decades. But on September 25, the New York protest effort, known as Occupy Wall Street, wasn’t quite there yet. In fact, the Wall Street protest seemed bedeviled by obstacles when Eidelman visited.

Take the loudspeaker problem. The few hundred activists holding a planning meeting in the corner of the park relied not on an electronic amplification system, but rather on participants talking in short phrases that the crowd repeated, like a massive game of telephone.

“We had mics,” Eidelman said of his tent city near the bus station.

Wall Street activists told Eidelman that police had threatened to arrest those who used megaphones. Eidelman thought: Why not buy a few hundred megaphones and dare them to arrest everyone? Apparently the idea hadn’t been raised.

“I could say that they’re wimps,” Eidelman said.

Eidelman immigrated to Israel at the age of 7 and speaks English in an American accent with Hebrew cadences. A founder of the anti-occupation group Anarchists Against the Wall, he spent years working on direct action campaigns against the construction of Israel’s security barrier.

Eidelman and his allies were used to being beyond the fringes of the Israeli consensus, so finally being part of a mass movement during the tent protests felt strange.

“It’s so weird to be suddenly in a place where everybody supports you,” Eidelman said.

In protester-occupied Zuccotti Park, a few feet from ground zero, Eidelman observed that the American activists seemed more afraid of the police than the protesters had been in Tel Aviv. Perhaps not without reason: A widely circulated video taken at a march the day before showed a police official, seemingly unprovoked, spray a group of young women with pepper spray.

In Tel Aviv, Eidelman said, the Israelis came onto the streets with a sense of ownership and a feeling that the police worked for them.

“The good thing about Zionist education is they tell you the country is yours,” Eidelman said.

Zionism also values collective effort, and Israelis are often veterans of youth movements and of the army — experiences that couldn’t have hurt in preparing thousands of Israelis to go camping together for a few months. Meanwhile, the student movement and the kibbutz movement offered supplies and infrastructure to the protesters in Israel, Eidelman said, functions that the Wall Street protesters are pulling together on the fly.

For Israelis, Eidelman said, “collectivity is kind of in our genes.”

The protesters who sparked the Israeli mass movement made sure to be accommodating to everyday Israelis. At Eidelman’s camp in Tel Aviv, the kitchen had served meat — anathema to the longtime activists, many of whom are vegetarians. But the tent cities were meant to be for everyone. On Wall Street, Eidelman saw a lack of openness. He said he had visited three times and no one had invited him to join in.

“I think people are angry. I just don’t think people feel this is a place they could fight it,” Eidelman said. He added, “Yet.”

But while Eidelman held out hope for the Wall Street protests, the Tel Aviv-based demonstrations were conspicuously absent from the Wall Street protesters’ rhetoric. The protesters regularly cite the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and the ongoing protests in Madrid. But Rothschild Boulevard is rarely name-checked.

“There is some hesitancy with proclaiming to be in solidarity with the tent protests in Tel Aviv, because there has not been a direct call from those protests to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” said Ari Cowan, 21, who said on September 26 that he had slept in the plaza all but two of the nine nights of the occupation.

The complaint, which is not uncommon, is one for which Eidelman has little patience.

“To look at a social movement only through the prism of the Palestinian struggle, that’s very limiting,” Eidelman said. “What do you expect, we’re going to change the whole system in two months?”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter @joshnathankazi s


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.