In early June, more than 10,000 Israelis took to the streets on a Saturday night chanting “Bring back hope and justice,” in a resurgence of 2011’s protests against income inequality, shrinking social programs and the crisis of politicians driven more by self-preservation than by the needs of the country’s citizens. “We don’t want a government of cutbacks,” they chanted. “We don’t want a government of racists.”
The initial impetus for last year’s protests which was the impossible cost of housing, soon evolved into an all-encompassing demand for social justice. In the course of several? weeks, hundreds of thousands of Israelis — Jew and Arab, urban and periphery, Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, secular and religious — crowded onto the tree-lined boulevards of Tel Aviv and into the centers of towns in the Negev and Galilee.
In the wake of Tahrir Square, young Israelis constructed more than 120 tent camps, dotting the landscape all summer. Widespread consumer boycotts forced major supermarket chains to cut prices. Even once winter arrived, volunteer watchdogs posted often contentious Knesset proceedings on the Web. And there was a slew of real successes as a result of the movement: expanding government sponsored childcare to children aged 3-5, higher capital gains taxes and improved labor conditions.
The response to these dramatic developments from American Jewry has been, for the most part, silence.
For many American Jews, Israel is a high-tech melting pot where our Zionist dreams are realized. It is hard to imagine it as a place with the highest socioeconomic gap in the Western world and state-sanctioned schisms among the population. This reality is far too unsettling.
For those accustomed to showing their love of Israel by worrying about its national security or fixating on the need to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, the new focus seems off-script. What about the existential Iranian threat? Why worry about social inequality as long as the Occupation continues? The tent protesters seem just plain frivolous.
Besides, yet others argue, it is not our role to take sides or publicize the fact that something is amiss in the only democracy in the Middle East. This will only bring shame on Israel should the rest of the world get wind of it.
What follows are four reasons that the Israeli tent protests should rate our (and by “our,” I mean those of us who call ourselves pro-Israel) enthusiastic support.
Israel is the real home of real people with real problems. Polls taken last summer found broad public support for the protests, including 98% of Kadima supporters and 85% of Likudniks polled. A recent survey found continued support from 75% of respondents across party lines.