Occupation Divides Israeli Protest Movement

Will Efforts To Broaden Focus Lead to Marginalization?

Equal Rights and Responsibility: Should the Israeli social justice movement address problems besides the economic ones that first drew crowds in the streets?
getty images
Equal Rights and Responsibility: Should the Israeli social justice movement address problems besides the economic ones that first drew crowds in the streets?

By Nathan Jeffay

Published July 15, 2012, issue of July 20, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

One year after Israel’s social protest movement was born, activists are battling over its soul.

Throughout June, protestors once again started to flow into the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday nights. They all claimed to be reviving the demonstrations held weekly last summer, when tent cities proliferated all over the country. But it quickly became evident that this time, there were very different ideas among the protestors about what their demands should be.

When a dozen disgruntled young Tel Avivans set up the first protest tents on July 14, 2011, they initially called for affordable housing and lower cost of living. But within days, there developed an ever-growing number of interpretations as to what should fall under the banner of “social justice.” The excitement of a successful movement, one capable of bringing nearly half a million people to the streets, overwhelmed any fine parsing of the differences between these various visions.

But that was then.

More than a year has passed and the government has offered a few concessions to improve social welfare — though far fewer than protestors hoped for — and the cause, which today is promoted by numerous different activist groups all claiming the legacy of the original movement, is even more fractured.

For many, the struggle has taken a patriotic turn, and the rallying cry has become not just equal rights but also equal responsibility, in the form of national service for all men, including Haredim and Arabs who are currently exempt. On July 7, with the government deliberating over what to do when the law exempting Haredi men from army service expires later this summer, some 25,000 people staged a social protest in Tel Aviv where the key demand was a universal male draft. “Frustration about lots of Israelis not doing national service is part of what brought people out onto the streets last year — it just wasn’t translated as a clear demand, so we’re doing so this year as an important part of the social protest,” said Idan Miller, head of Common Denominator, the activist group that organized the event.

Others say that the movement must expand in a different direction — by calling for an end to the occupation. Just as Saturday demonstrations were being revived in early June, a group of activists staged a rally entitled “No Social Justice Without Ending the Occupation.” It attracted 2,000 people, and since then a schism has emerged between protestors on this issue.

“You can’t have social justice for just 7 million people who are Israeli citizens — you have to take everyone under Israeli rule into consideration,” Nir Nader, a leader of the anti-occupation protesters, told the Forward.

The schism between protestors has become most acute in the weeks since June 30, when, during a 10,000-strong Tel Aviv demonstration, 2,000 of the more radical protestors split off from the rest. The breakaway group accused the demonstration’s organizers of placing too much faith in the establishment. At the renegade demonstration, protestors chanted slogans calling for an end to the occupation, and the most common chant was “peace, equality and social justice.”


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!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • 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.