Saturday, July 30, 2011

Israel Holds Its Government Accountable

Israeli news sources report that over 100,000 people in Israel took to the streets tonight protesting the cost of living in Israel. In Tel Aviv, as of about 7:30 pm EDT, there are reports of protesters being arrested. Protesters demonstrated in Jerusalem, Haifa, Beersheva, Nazareth, Kiryat Shmona, Modi'in, and Ashkelon as well.

In the wake of the protests which began as small demonstrations over housing in Tel Aviv July 25th, politicians have mobilized. Leader of the Opposition Tzipi Livni has echoed Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) in his call to cancel the Knesset's summer recess to pass a housing bill. Netanyahu had presented a plan last Tuesday (July 26) but it was met with a charge of insufficiency from those protesting.

But the protests aren't about coalition politics and Knesset inside baseball. The Israelis protesting tonight are demonstrating out of a sense that politics as usual cannot continue, and that the government has failed to address the public interest. It is likely that the protesters have been mobilized not only by the housing issue but also by other issues affecting Israeli domestic society. Indeed, the status quo of the past decade - and the government's lack of viable alternatives to that status quo - have bred deep cynicism in Israel over the country's future.

In the wake of the protests, many are likely to speculate about their deeper meaning. Some may consider these protests the rebirth of the Israeli left, but this analysis is erroneous. The protesters aren't reacting against a new right-wing government policy on housing because there is no such salient policy to begin with. Rather, they illustrate the cavernous space between the government's ideological policy agenda and the pragmatic needs of the Israeli public. The protests highlight that while those from the fringes drive debate over loyalty, BDS, and inquiry commissions, the basic needs of normal Israelis are being neglected.

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