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!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • 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.