Sunday, August 14, 2011

Odds And Ends About The Protest Movement

I've gone quiet for the past couple of weeks, working on a longer essay about the Palestinian right of return. For those who missed it, a shorter version of my last post was published as an oped in Haaretz last weekend. I also spoke about the issue with Kojo Nnamdi on his WAMU's talk show, and will be on Tom Ashbrook's "On Point" tomorrow, Monday, at 11 AM. But enough about me.

I called some (young) friends who lead the Solidarity organization in Jerusalem, to get their take on the protests. They have been, they said, in the circles around the (even younger) protest leaders, but can only speculate. They cannot say how deeply the new leaders are committed to connecting the dots between economic disabilities and peace, though the latter clearly do have backgrounds that imply peace movement sentiments: the kibbutz movement, the student union, and so forth.

The new young leaders on Rothschild Boulevard are very willing to associate with, and seek advice from, liberal NGOs. They are also willing to keep a focus on the "tycoons" and the monopolistic pricing of certain consumer goods, because this kind of issue is the easiest to understand. (Go tell people that if, during the 2008 meltdown, Israeli banks were not highly regulated in ways that kept foreign competitors out, the country could have become another Iceland.)

Anyway, the new leadership are clearly not keen to gesture toward the issue of Palestine, though smoking the nargila seems a part of the way tent-dwellers keep debate going into the night. The fear is dividing people along "ideological" lines.

And yet I think it may be impossible to keep the issue of the occupation and, correspondingly, the texture of the state regarding non-Jews under the surface much longer, because at least some Israeli Arabs have been mobilizing, especially in and around Haifa. Once Arabs join the coalition--and how can the leaders not wish the most disadvantaged Israelis to join an economics-driven movement?--the movement such as it is will have to decide how to keep Arabs engaged.

Arabs will not stay with movement that projects a desire to return to the good old days of the Histadrut and collective enterprises, which more or less made clear that Arabs need not apply. They will insist on an end to occupation in the New Israel. There will never again be a democracy-and-peace front in Israel that wins an election that is not a coalition with Arabs.

Moreover, the real divide in Israel's political future may not be ideological in the old sense. It may be generational: the divide between people who are cool (a word that may mark me as from an older generation) and those who are not; the divide between Israelis who have traveled  the world, and "friend" people all over it, and those who still think in terms of their immigrant aspirations.

The young movement, in short, seems made of Israelis who expect to be joined to world, as opposed to Jews who see the world as heartless in a way that requires an Israeli haven. This may be enough to move sentiment in the street to preclude a future of international isolation, implied by the world's rallying to Palestine. Stay tuned (or should I say, online).