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This nearly unanimous level of concern for the state of Israel’s social contract represents a major shift. What is at stake at this moment is nothing less than the promise enshrined in the state’s declaration of independence, “freedom, justice, and peace as envisioned by the prophets of Israel.” What is at stake is the future of real Israelis.
Security is not only about outside threats. The slogan “There is no personal security without social security” reminds us that unless basic welfare, education and health needs of a people are met, mistrust, self-interest and despair poison communal life.
Israel is a deeply divided society in which subgroups often blame the other for their suffering, without regard to the fact that the other is often a fellow Jew. “[W]hen the prevailing ambience,” writes the author David Grossman, “is that of ‘grab what you can,’ you cannot help but disparage the other and rob each other blind.”
An open discussion of shared problems encourages Israelis to listen to and have empathy for one another. There has been a dramatic decrease in reported incidences of racism committed by Jew against Arab within Israel proper over the past year, a change that some attribute directly to the tent protest movement. Surely this is a good thing.
Social justice is a cornerstone of Jewish culture and theology. Whether one is “right” or “left” on the Israeli and American Jewish political spectrum has long been defined by one’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and national security issues, and not by the traditional measures of income distribution and social equality.
Protest leader Stav Shaffir argues that Israelis, too, have been focused elsewhere “while ignoring the crimes that were taking place in our own neighborhoods, diminishing social services and social mobility, and the growth of segregation leading to great poverty and suffering.” To ignore the widow, orphan and stranger is simply not a long-term moral option for the Jewish state.
The development of intergroup solidarity encouraged by the tent movement provides the leverage needed to tackle a wide range of Israel’s problems, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Achievement of a resolution of the conflict will take more than just support from outside Israel; a broad swath of Israeli society must back the government to take the bold steps necessary for peace.
True peoplehood is built on hope, vision and genuine connection between human beings. The Israeli tent protest movement has brought genuine hope to the table. To borrow the words of Haifa Arab activist Raja Zaatry: “In this struggle there is room for everybody. In this struggle there is hope for everybody. This struggle is everyone’s.”
Aliza Becker is the director of Friends of the Israeli Social Movement.