Kfir Cohen, The Failures of the Liberal View of Democracy [ssba]

Kfir Cohen, The Failures of the Liberal View of Democracy

In “Zeev Sternhell’s Fetishist Democracy” published in Haoketz (August 13, 2016) Kfir Cohen argues that liberals fail when they discuss the Right’s assault on democracy.

Israel was never a liberal state

Tribalism and hostility to liberal democracy, which we tend to identify with the Right, the religious and often with Mizrahim, were inherent to Zionism and to certain entities that call themselves Left. Since its birth, Zionism has always been tribal, irrational and particularistic. Since 1933 and later in the state, Zionism was a one-party movement. Mapai’s unchallenged rule over the economic, military, education, academic and the legal spheres – was not unlike authoritarian states in Europe.

If Israel has never been a liberal, what’s the new threat on Israel’s democracy?

Liberals view democracy through its formal institutions: separation of powers, freedom of the press, autonomy of the judicial, legal equality for all citizens, free elections, etc. Thus, a threat to democracy is a threat to its institutions. What is new today is a threat to Israel’s democratic institutions, for example, limiting freedom of speech, narrowing steps of the Supreme Court, etc.
Cohen notes that there are reasons for concern about the Right’s attack on democracy, but sorely missing is an understanding of the endemic obstacles of indirect power embedded in democratic structures. The Liberals’ failure becomes clear when we realize that they believe the democracy and equality exist when the institutions are unthreatened.

For example, when the Knesset passes a law that allows residents to prevent citizens (i.e. Arabs) to build a house in a certain community due to “the candidate’s incompatibility to the social fabric of the community.” Here is a violation of formal equality that has compromised democracy. Formal equality means that any citizen has a right to buy a house anywhere. We’ll call it “freedom of ownership.” Now let’s take another example and ask how can we understand this freedom, when certain citizens are prohibited to live in Tel-Aviv because housing is too expensive. The formal law guarantees them the right to “freedom of real estate,” in reality they cannot exercise this right. There is no direct power to prevent them from living anywhere they choose, there is however an indirect power that is doing precisely that.”

We are so used to thinking that this inequality (which concerns millions of people) is natural, that we don’t realize that it violates the principle of democracy and freedom. You may argue that we should rephrase freedom of ownership as: a citizen has the right to live where he wishes as long as s/he can afford it.” OK. This means: “a citizen has the right to live where he wishes so long as s/he is rich.” How is this sentence different from: “a citizen the right to live where he wants as long as s/he is a Jew”? Why does the first sentence make perfect sense, while the other makes us think of fascism and the end of the world?

Cohen offers other examples, “in democracy, all citizens have the right to equal access to education. In reality, however, 50% of Israeli youth 17 years of age do not graduate high school. In democracy, higher education is open to all, yet effectively, if I am not mistaken only a quarter, or third of citizens have a B.A. In democracy, citizens are entitled to equal pay for equal work, in reality men earn more than women for the same work. We can go on piling examples but the underlying principle is clear… the liberals however notices failings of democracy only when formal institutions are attacked.

Let’s rephrase the liberal logical failure: In practice, the majority of citizens do not enjoy the democratic equality. But the liberal notices it only when it harms formal institutions. As long as the Knesset does not pass racist or anti-democratic laws, democratic institutions can continue discriminating against citizens.

For liberals, democracy does not have to exist in the entire political space, but only in those spaces that embody it allegorically (Knesset, the court, journalism).

Translated by Ayala Emmett and Maya Haber

Zehava Galon, The Insanity of Investing in the South Hebron Hills [ssba]

Zehava Galon, The Insanity of Investing in the South Hebron Hills

Haaretz discovered that Israel Vows to Advance ‘Strategic Plan’ to Develop South Hebron Hills. Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank is discussing a massive investment in the construction, including industrial complexes, a medical center and housing units. A huge investment of money and blood for a fantasy.

How many of you have ever been to the South Hebron hills? Would you move there with your children? Probably not. In fact, only 8,000 Jews settled in this dangerous area. Two of the four areas in which the security fence has been compromised are in the south Hebron hills. And settlements there are a major target for terrorist attacks. Dafna Meir was murdered in Atniel and Hillel Ariel was murdered in Kiryat Arba. When the Knesset’s Foreign and Security Committee members visited the area, residents told them that their children have difficulties sleeping at night. They cannot even get into bed without checking that all doors and windows are locked. Imagine that. A local doctor told the Knesset committee that adults there take far more anti-anxiety medication than in the rest of Israel. ​​The terrorists who carried out the recent attack in Sarona in Tel Aviv came from there. So did the terrorist who murdered Hillel Ariel. Read More »

Not Exactly Start-Up Nation [ssba]

Not Exactly Start-Up Nation

The Article was originally written for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Israel.

Shlomo Swirski, Academic Director, The Adva Center

Israel, established in 1948 and with a population of 8.13 million (2015), belongs to the self-defined group of developed countries. In 2010 it was accepted into the OECD – the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the prestigious “rich countries’ club.” With a GDP per capita of $33,200 (based on Purchasing Power Parities [PPP]) in 2014, it ranked 22nd out of 34 OECD members (Germany, with $44,800, ranked 10th). It ranked even higher – 19th out of 187 countries (in 2013; Germany ranked 6th) — on the United Nations Human Development Index, which takes into account not only economic performance but also performance in the fields of health, education and gender equality. Read More »

POWER TO THE WORKERS! [ssba]

POWER TO THE WORKERS!

“My analysis,” Rami Hod said, “is that the problem of the Israeli left is a root problem, a radical problem, one that won’t be solved in two years, or in five. If we want to rule, if we want to achieve dominance of the center-left, we must be in the day-to-day lives of the people, helping them in their community, in the municipality, in their union, and in all aspects of their lives.”

Read More »

Tammy Zandberg, We cannot distinguish between the Shameful Economic Policy and the Perpetuation of the Occupation [ssba]

Tammy Zandberg, We cannot distinguish between the Shameful Economic Policy and the Perpetuation of the Occupation

The Israeli welfare state continues to expand. If you are not feeling it, you are probably not living in a settlement.

While the vast majority of citizens living within the legal territory of Israel face anti-social policies, cutbacks in state services and privatizations, the settlers received today yet another tax benefit.
Only settlers have subsidized public transport. Only settlers deserve discounted housing. Now they also get tax benefits regardless of the socio-economic condition of their community and its residents.

While Yeruham, Ofakim, Kiryat Shmona and many other communities will continue to be crashed under deliberate governmental anti-social policies, Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home Knesset Members) and his partners get yet another fat bonus for their settler friends.

We cannot distinguish between the shameful economic policy and the perpetuation of the occupation. The goal of Israel’s Messianic Right is continuing to reinforce settlements in order to prevent a future peace agreement and deepen the state’s control over Greater Israel. This messianic vision drags us into an endless cycle of bloodshed, brings international isolation and leads to delusional allocation of economic resources to one sector.

This messianic vision has many fathers, Smotrich is only one of them. It is his right. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, however, should be the one answering us. Kahlon promised to be a social minister, but instead he prefers Smotrich and Bennet’s friendship and helps implement their vision.

The original Hebrew Text

Translation: Maya Haber

The Strollers’ March and Victories in the Social Protest Movement [ssba]

The Strollers’ March and Victories in the Social Protest Movement

In the summer of 2011, a few days after tents started popping up on Rothschild Boulevard. in Tel Aviv, a group of us were hanging out with protesters. Some of us were veteran activists, others were not. We all had kids ages one and a half to four.

This group initiated an unprecedented protest: the “stroller march,” which brought tens of thousands of parents to the streets for a power demonstration around the intolerable cost of raising children in Israel. Read More »

Dany Gutwein, The Economic Logic of the Occupation [ssba]

Dany Gutwein, The Economic Logic of the Occupation

Listen to Prof. Dany Gutwein explain the relationship how Israel’s neoliberalism is wedded to the occupation.

Lia Nirgad, The end of Israel’s political deadlock [ssba]

Lia Nirgad, The end of Israel’s political deadlock

Haaretz and the New Israel Fund focused their joint New York conference on three interrelated topics: peace, democracy and social justice. Though the relation between the three is obvious, a lot still had to happen to tie them together.

Still, despite the innovative title, the conference’s structure reflected the long tradition of the American Jewish progressive camp and the Israeli Left. Only one panel was devoted to the question of socio-economics. All the others focused on peace and the occupation.

This is a profound mistake and the Israeli society has been paying a hefty price for it for. A political map where the only difference between the Right and the Left revolves around the occupation and peace promises a continuous political deadlock. For years the two camps have been yelling at each other from across the road while and the convoy of the wealthy passes by, the settlements flourish undisturbed, and the impoverished masses watch the spectacle with panicked eyes. They will always join those who speak the language of fear as long as this goes on.

For decades, I was part of this mistake. I became a political activist during the first Lebanon War. True, we included the slogan “Money for development towns and not for settlements” in our demonstrations. But this was the extent of our social analysis. Occasionally someone would suggest organizing a conference on women, Mizrahi, or the poor, but the occupation was always more urgent. And we truly believed that the occupation was the origin of all issues. We had to first stop the flow of money to the settlements, and then the money would naturally go where it was needed.

Let’s be honest: we haven’t gotten very far. Not in the eighties. Not in the nineties. And most definitely not since the turn of the millennium. Another war in Lebanon, two intifadas and a host of well-branded military operations have passed us by. There is no peace now and it’s not on the horizon. Since Ariel Sharon’s brilliant disengagement from Gaza, we don’t even engage in diplomatic negotiations. In the meantime, two generations of leftwing activists have put everything they’ve had into ending the occupation, yet most Israelis think the Left is only concerned with the welfare of the Arabs.

The 2011 social protests shattered this deadlock. In a rare moment, people realized that these definitions of left and right, focused on different configurations of the future, divert people’s gaze from what is happening here and now. Citizens from all sectors of society understood that the system ruins them all. They came up with a common cry “The people demand social justice.”
When I went to Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv with my partner Daniel Dor that summer, we felt extremely uncomfortable. On the one hand, there was an unprecedented burst of innovative civic energy. People were asking the most subversive questions about the power structures of our society. On the other hand, all these good people had made a decision not to focus on the occupation. We thought about it and realized that anyone who wants to promote change has to work within a given reality. Israeli society suffers from profound ills. Some ills are most certainly the result of the ongoing occupation. Indeed, the occupation has corrupted Israeli society. But anyone who wants to see an enlightened society in this country must first and foremost help make the reality Israelis live in less dire.

The social protest showed us the strength in numbers: the number of people taking to the streets; the budget’s numbers suddenly became our favorite reading material. The new civil power was based on a new kind of knowledge: who is financing whom, who is connected to whom, and who pays the price. We chose to turn the spotlight on the legislative system. In Fall 2011, we established the Social Guard to monitor the work of Knesset members. Hundreds of Social Guard activists regularly come to the Knesset to make sure our representatives start to truly represent the public interest and not succumb to the pressures of capital and the government. A variety of civil society groups were formed alongside the Social Guard to focus on changing the balance of power between the people and the government.

Thus, a new and more complex political map has been created. A map unwilling to accept the old rigid division between right and left. One doesn’t have to be a leftist to aspire that every child in Israel will drink clean water and have enough to eat. One doesn’t have to be on the right to believe that free market competition is better than cartels. People on the Left and the Right understand that transparency is the key to public power and that democracy requires public power. People on the Left and on the Right understand that without a democracy we cannot care for the welfare of Israelis.

We haven’t given up on resolving the conflict and ending to occupation. But beyond the critical monitoring activities of organizations such as the “B’tselem,” “Breaking the Silence” and “Machsom Watch,” resolving the conflict and ending the occupation currently isn’t a practical goal for civic activism. They are as urgent as ever, but we don’t have the tools to advance these goals, and dealing with them paralyzes any attempt to change the political map. Such a change requires time and waiting is difficult. To say, if we don’t wait the deadlock will continue.

The text was published in December 2015 in Guy Rolnik’s blog and translated by Maya Haber.

Avi Dabush, Building Rainbow Coalitions [ssba]

Avi Dabush, Building Rainbow Coalitions

We had a wonderful conversation with Avi Dabush yesterday. Avi is a dynamic community organizer. He has lead a variety of social and political struggles in Israel. In the last elections, he ran for Knesset as part of Meretz. Throughout the campaign Avi was a leading voice on issues of Mizrahi identity and social justice.

Until recently he was the program director at SHATIL, the New Israel Fund’s initiative for social change. Avi left in January to devote his time to building what he calls “Rainbow coalitions.” He spoke to us about sectarianism which divides Israeli society, and the attempts to build grassroots movements uniting people and focusing on their shared interests. Avi argues that focusing on shared experience allows people to transcended identity differences and focuses on commonalities.

He told us his motto is the African Proverb – “If you want to walk fast walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk together!”

Dany Gutwein on the Transformation of the Israeli Left [ssba]

Dany Gutwein on the Transformation of the Israeli Left

We spoke today with Professor Danny Gutwein. Gutwein is one of the most prominent public intellectuals of the Israeli Left today. He teaches Jewish History at Haifa University, but spends much of his time inspiring, building and supporting a grassroots movement which offers an alternative political vision and action.

Gutwein has a large following. He participated in the television Social and Economic Policy documentary series the Silver Platter (Magash Hakesef). The series had over two million viewers (read more here). It was so popular that Channel 8 was pressured to take two of the three episodes off the web. He is regular commentator on the Israeli radio and television, where he is invited to speak about anything from Netanyahu’s gas deal to Bernie Sanders.

download

The Silver Platter was so popular that Israelis encountered graffiti on bridges “Have you watched the Silver Platter yet?”

Read More »