Young Israeli “tent city” protesters ape Arab Revolt, go political

Two weeks ago, a motley group of youngish people set up a "tent city"in the high-end Tel Aviv Rothschild Boulevard to protest the unavailability of affordable housing in the city and other parts of the country. Since then, the movement, although never acquiring the same dimensions or fury, has assumed three attributes of the uprisings in Arab lands: It enjoys backstage foreign political support, some from certain circles in Washington; it is exploiting genuine popular grievances for political capital; and it wants regime change, namely,  Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's head on a platter.

The common features stop there: Israel's democracy is alive and kicking with an over-abundance of parties, an active opposition, an independent judiciary, full employment (falling to 5.7 percent in May) and a thriving entrepreneurial and innovative economy.
The protest movement grew out of the fragile underpinnings of that economy – an underpaid, overtaxed workforce; a professional 20-50 aged class that can't make ends meet between overpriced food, housing (rents or mortgages) and schooling for their children; no prospects of change and the widest social gap in the Western world.
A group of impatient, twenty-something Tel Avivians started out by spearheading social struggle for a bigger slice of the economic pie for the disadvantaged. Today, they have shifted into parroting political watchwords borrowed from the lexicons of the Arab Revolt and left-wing extremism.
Self-appointed organizer Dafna Lief shouted through a bullhorn that the revolution had begun. Housing was not the issue, she said, a comprehensive package of benefits must be forthcoming "at once." Another called for the market economy to be abolished along with the regime because only the tycoons benefit. Others declared there is no point in waiting another 60 years; the time for action is now, and: "Mubarak is waiting for Bibi!"

These slogans with boos, hoots and rude gestures were their response to the ambitious reform program for helping the hard-up attain cheap homes which Netanyahu sketched out in broad lines Tuesday, July 27.

He promised new legislation before the Knesset's summer recess to cut the red tape which routinely holds up building permission for five to ten years; release state land at cut-prices for 50,000 new apartments on which building will start over the next 18 months; cheap land for developers guaranteeing to pass the saving onto renters and purchasers; free state land for building 10,000 new student dorms and half-fares on public transport for students living far from universities and colleges.
Bibi believed his initiative would take the wind out of the protesters' sails. He was wrong. Their leaders accused him of divide and rule tactics and the students, the only organized, elected body represented, decided that although he was offering the best deal they had ever had, they would not break ranks with fellow protesters.

And the protesters don't talk about electons or putting forward a program for social reform. Instead, they are waging a war of attrition to keep Bibi off-balance: They plan to reject every concession he makes to their demands as spin, then come back with a new one.
Interestingly, while the media record its every move, politicians on both sides of the Knesset have tended to keep their distance from the tent city. Even social crusaders like Labor MKs Amir Peretz and Shelli Yachimovitch, are careful not to be identified with what looks like an off-the-wall fringe group before they see which way it goes.
Ofer Eini, chairman of the Histadrut Trade Unions Federation waited until Tuesday, July 26, before commenting that his members also had grievances. But he did not mention the demonstrators.
Those politicians are canny enough to grasp that if they make common cause with the nascent revolt, they could end up at the wrong end of it like Bibi.
In Egypt, the protesters got rid of Hosni Mubarak only to be stuck with a military junta with no intention of implementing promised reforms. Riots have flared up again in Tahrir Square under the slogan "They have stolen our revolution."
Israel once had model public welfare institutions which too were stolen in the 90s when public services were indiscriminately privatized by the very leaders of the day who now head the opposition and were then inspired by Bill Clinton's free global economy.
Turning the clock back is not an option. But the classes with legitimate claims are beginning to see that the Tel Aviv tent leaders have gone off on a tangent into revolutionary politics with no real social agenda beyond Bibi's removal.
The mess in the hospital and medical services today resulted from the reckless reforms of two decades ago. In between dead-end negotiations with the government, Israel's public sector doctors have been striking for 120 days for better conditions and more staff.

The Netanyahu coalition government enjoys a stable parliamentary majority. But if the protest movement gathers steam and he continues to pour out generous benefits to shut them up, the economy may start cracking. Investors will lose confidence and flee and the shekel, one of the strongest currencies today, will plummet.
The price of a sagging economy will not be paid by the banks and corporations but by the classes who are already finding it hard to eke a living. 

The Tel Aviv tent movement might be more believable if it turned its ire against Israel's cartels and corporate bandits including the banks – as well as the government. But its main thrust is clearly political and points strongly to a political motive underlying its campaign.
Take a look at the timing. The tent-protesters plan to keep going through August towards a peak which they schedule to occur just before the Palestinians plan to ask for United Nations recognition of their state.
According to this scenario, the Netanyahu government is doomed to fall on the eve of the UN vote. The political havoc in Israel will persuade many countries to give their votes to the Palestinians. A new Israeli government will recognize Palestinian independence within the 1967 boundaries, reversing the Netanyahu government's firm rejection of this formula.
It is no accident that, as the Rothschild Blvd. protest gathers momentum this week, a group of Israeli ex-officers who once held high security service ranks is paying a visit Washington with a message for the Obama administration: Keep up the heat on the Netanyahu government and make him agree to Israel's withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries. One that is in the bag, the Rothschild Blvd. tent city will scatter to the four winds.

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