As more Israelis join the tent-city protests that are spouting up in major cities and participate in rallies to demand the government intervene with sky-rocketing costs for housing and utilities, more conservative commentators are suggesting that the protesters are just a bunch of spoiled middle class people looking for a government hand-out. Or to quote Maariv columnist Yoav Fromer:
“The Tel Aviv tent protesters say they speak for a nation demanding social justice. In truth, they’re entitled yuppies who’ve finally found something worth fighting for: themselves.”
In the world of perpetual conservative discontent, if you are not a die-hard nationalist condemning another nation or minority group for being Satan’s ambassadors on Earth; if you are not down on big government and taxes, but you dare to kvetch about something, you must a selfish, whinny, socialist. Of course, there’s nothing at all selfish in the least about not wanting to pay taxes for government programs that help people like, “them.”
In his recent tirade, “Generation Aleph” in Tablet magazine, Fromer points out that the young urban professionals who initiated the protests for social justice in Tel Aviv weren’t actually out there in the streets demanding justice for any other groups who have in recent times, protested about their rights and hardships; e.g. doctors, Holocaust survivors, residents of Sderot, etc.
Fromer wants to know how can how anyone take these protesters and their cause seriously, and acclaim what’s going as a new Israeli revolution, when it’s so obvious that their primary motivation is their own personal welfare?
Let’s apply Fromer’s arrogant thesis to another historical political revolution that emerged during the Vietnam War. The anti-war movement in the US not only turned national sentiment against the war, it also brought about a social revolution that changed American standards and values from everything from sex to fashions, music, to our trust in government.
At the root of the anti-war movement, were the college age young men of America who did not want to be drafted to fight and die for a bunch of third-world rice pickers who would still be rice pickers regardless of what government ruled their country. The fact that today, a majority of Americans would like to see the U.S. out of Iraq and Afghanistan but have not taken to the streets in mass protest can be explained quite simply, there is no draft.
Does motivation really give a popular movement its legitimacy? The social injustices of America in the 1960’s were even more pronounced and profound than what middle class Israelis are confronting today: Jim Crow was still being battled in the south; women were demanding equality and all American’s of color felt excluded socially and economically from the American dream.
So what ultimately drove young American’s into the streets? Fear of the draft; fear of dying in a remote jungle for cause they did not believe in. So should we write off the anti-Vietnam War movement as a failure because its founders were marching to save their own lives?
Sure, if you believe that, you must also believe that a tsunami is not a flood, it’s just a big ocean wave.
The anti-war movement in America in the 1960’s and 70’s changed our political, social and cultural climate dramatically, regardless of what drove “us” into the streets!
Israelis of all backgrounds are today speaking out loud and clear: they feel disfranchised by a government that is not paying attention to their financial hardships which are growing greater with each passing day.
Don’t tell the Wall Street Journal or people like Bibi Netanyahu who believe in “trickle down economics,” but an economy that creates lots of new rich people while condemning an ever greater segment of society to membership to an economic underclass that can’t find affordable housing or pay their bills, is nothing to brag about or celebrate.
It’s true, the demands of the Israeli protesters for social justice are definitely bred from selfishness. The same kind of selfishness for justice and freedom that is at the heart of all great, small, violent, peaceful, modest -life changing revolutions.