Friday, August 26, 2011

"Small but important steps"

Excellent editorial from the latest issue of the Militant, published by my old party, the US SWP:

Israel not exempt from class politics

Widespread demonstrations against sky-high rents and deteriorating living conditions that have shaken Israel since mid-July expose just how false is the notion that—unlike other countries, including in the Middle East—Israel is somehow exempt from the laws of the class struggle. That Arab and Jewish workers in Israel and the region have no basis for united action against the capitalist rulers and their government in Tel Aviv.

The huge outpourings show that Israel is not isolated from the consequences of the capitalist crisis wracking the lives of hundreds of millions of working people worldwide. That social catastrophe fueled aspirations among workers and youth to throw off tyranny and win freedoms to organize and act that bore fruit in the toppling of oppressive regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and are right now rocking Libya and Syria to their foundations.

Working people of different nationalities and convictions have been impelled into the streets—Jews, Muslims, Christians, those with no religious beliefs; Arabs, Kurds, Berbers, and more. Bourgeois rulers, with imperialist backing, pit toilers against each other in order to stay in power and preserve their privileged lives.

In Israel, during the recent actions, signs in both Hebrew and Arabic decorated a tent called “48,” which was part of the protest encampment in Tel Aviv. “48” stands for 1948, the year the State of Israel was founded and Palestinians dispossessed of a homeland.

The events in Israel are an affirmation of the power of the struggle for a democratic secular Palestine. That struggle will emerge over time out of battles for land and water rights; an end to religious tests for jobs, services, or other aspects of social and political life; decent wages and conditions; women’s equality; and an end to brutal operations by Tel Aviv’s cops, troops, and commandos.

The reality that class battles in Israel will be waged by both Jewish and Palestinian working people can now be seen more clearly. It is along this line of march that the forces of a revolutionary struggle for workers power will be forged and capitalist rule ended in Israel.

As elsewhere in the world, the working class in the Middle East—from Israel and the occupied territories, to Libya, Syria, and beyond—confronts a political crisis of revolutionary proletarian leadership. But working people can welcome developments across the region this year. They are harbingers of small but important steps toward opening the political space in which workers and farmers can organize and act to fight for their common class interests.

The main story providing the undergirding for the editorial above:

Demonstrations shake Israel
… along with illusions about it

Gerrit De Vynck
A quarter million demonstrate August 6 in Tel Aviv, Israel, against high cost of living.

Social protests over rising housing costs and declining living standards have swept Israel for more than a month. These mobilizations are dealing a blow to the false notion that class divisions and popular struggle against the country’s capitalist government are precluded because there is supposedly no basis in Israel for common struggle by working people from the Jewish majority and the oppressed Palestinian people.

Beginning in mid-July as a small tent protest in downtown Tel Aviv against rising rents, the actions quickly grew and spread to other cities, involving both Jews and Arabs.

On August 6 more than 300,000 took to the streets across Israel, including a quarter million in Tel Aviv, according to the Jerusalem Post. They demanded affordable housing, as well as lower prices, tax relief, and more child care.

The following Saturday, August 13, protest leaders organized actions in 18 smaller cities, not in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, in order to highlight the spread of the protests. An estimated 50,000 to 70,000 people turned out in all.

The largest August 13 action was in the northern port city of Haifa, where more than 20,000 participated, according to the Jerusalem Post. Many were Arabs, who comprise 20 percent of Israel’s population. Speakers addressed the crowd in Hebrew and Arabic.

More than 10,000 rallied in the southern city of Beersheba. Among the demands there was an end to state demolition of “unrecognized villages” where tens of thousands of Arabs live, reported the New York Times. Other actions occurred in Afula, Ashkelon, Dimona, Eilat, Nahariya, Netanya, and Tikva.

Facing falling support for his government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized on shootings and bombings near Eilat in southern Israel on August 18 to try to quell the protests with nationalist appeals to the country’s Jewish majority for “unity.” Six civilians and two Israeli soldiers were killed in the attacks, which no one claimed responsibility for but Tel Aviv ascribes to the Popular Resistance Committees.

Over the next few days, the Israeli government launched airstrikes along the Egyptian border and in Gaza, and the Popular Resistance Committees and Hamas fired rockets into Israeli towns.

While protests against the high cost of living subsided after the attacks, some organizers say they will keep pressing their demands. The National Union of Israeli Students, for example, called off a rally set for Jerusalem August 20. But Lilach Meir of the group’s department of foreign affairs told the Militant in a phone interview that “We will continue with demonstrations to achieve our demands. Everything here is more expensive. It’s very hard to live.”

Some 4,000 demonstrators joined a silent candlelight march in Tel Aviv August 20. “Many of the marchers said they had turned out not only to be heard on social issues but also to express solidarity with residents in the south,” reported Haaretz. A sharp exchange ensued when some demonstrators raised demands in support of Palestinians in areas occupied by Israel since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

‘System is not working’
While the official unemployment rate in Israel is nearly 7 percent, about 40 percent of Israelis between 15 and 64 years old are not working, according to Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development figures. Almost one-quarter of the population lives below the government’s poverty line; for Arabs living in Israel the figure is more than 50 percent. Housing prices have increased about 40 percent in the last three years, according to Bloomberg News.

Protests against these conditions began July 14 after Daphni Leef, a 25-year-old Israeli film school graduate, announced on the Internet that her new home would be a tent in central Tel Aviv along the city’s fashionable Rothschild Boulevard. She invited others to join her. Leef had received an eviction notice and couldn’t afford the higher rent her landlord was demanding. By the end of the week some 5,000 people had moved into tents there and across Israel, she said.

“I am a teacher but with my salary I cannot even finish the month without going into debt,” Adi Peleu, 30, who took up residence in one of these tents in Tel Aviv, told the Financial Times. “The system is not working for us. It’s not just about housing but also about taxes, which are very high; it is about gasoline, which is very expensive, and about the cost of food.”

Signs in both Arabic and Hebrew on a tent titled “48” (short for the year 1948, when the state of Israel was founded) created quite a “buzz” when it was set up in the heart of Tel Aviv, reported Mixed Arab-Jewish tents have been set up in the Jaffna section of Tel Aviv, and in northern Galilee a mixed Orthodox Jewish and Arab site was erected, according to Al Jazeera.

Hundreds of retirees on pensions rallied by one of the busiest traffic intersections in Tel Aviv August 15. A “stroller march,” demanding the government provide free public child care starting at three months instead of three years of age, took place July 28 in Tel Aviv.

Six days later thousands of dairy farmers marched through the central part of the city protesting government plans to lower the price they would get for their milk and increase imports of dairy products, reported Haaretz.

In face of the protests, Netanyahu called on city officials not to evict the tent campers. Hoping to appease demonstrators and buffer the destabilizing impact on his cabinet, the prime minister set up a government panel to come up with “solutions that are economically sound.”

The committee is supposed to submit its recommendations in September.



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