After a few weeks devoted to discovering Israel and settling in Jerusalem, I’m back to this blog. Apparently, even back in « good old » France the media don’t equate Israel and « THE » [Middle-East ] conflict these days as the country is in the news for a totally different reason: the biggest social movement ever here. So before you guys start comparing with the European situation (Greece, the indignants in Spain…) or even to the “Arab spring” (I know you would :p ) as some desk-locked journalists can have, let’s take a step back to analyze the situation.
Once upon a time, all started with the Cottage Cheese Rebellion. (Sounds good, eih? ;) )It’s enemy was (and still is) the monopolistic Tenuvah corporation (formerly an association of kibbutzim producing dairies bought three years ago by an American-based multinational corporation) that imposes prices way higher than in other OECD countries. This made “the people” realize how their purchasing power is low and the cost of life high despite having one of the best growth rate of the developed world (between 4 and 5% ; don’t be too jealous fellow Europeans/Americans ^^). Among the most disputed thing: housing prices. Here too monopolies and tycoons have taken profit from their situation to impose rents unaffordable for students and young couples. And then it became big: three weeks ago tents appeared on Rothschild Boulevard (since renamed “if I were a Rothschild boulevard” à “ boulevard mon père c’est pas Rothschild” as would have said a famous French humorist…), a major road in Tel-Aviv (the city being the economic capital by the way). Now they are hundreds, and similar “tent-cities” have appeared on other streets and cities (for example here in Jerusalem we have some just in front of my ulpan [Hebrew class]). The population is quite clearly behind them, sharing their concerns and doubting the efficiency of a (too?) free-market economy (remember the socialist origins of the country: chassez le naturel il revient au gallop…). The result is 150000 and then 300000 people in the streets the two last Saturday nights in all the country. Not too impressive for France, but at equal population it would be over 2 million and a half!
To detail a bit, the government owns the huge majority of unused lands and sells it after having approved the housing project proposed by the purchasing real-estate corporation. So the Netanyahu government came out last week of its mutism to propose a plan to accelerate the rate of construction not the less through the simplification of the approval procedure. Less red-tape = more efficiency. But the population here more generally revolts against the lack of regulation that gives all power to monopolies. “The market was privatized but not liberalized” told me a student at the Rothschild boulevard. So the heart of the discussion is whether the new bill will be able to constraint real-estate entrepreneurs to include a certain share of housing for the poorer. I would tend to say it will, but now that the movement is born it keeps spreading all over Israel as many more complaints persist: high and equal VAT in all economic sectors, drowning middle-classes…
So now let’s come back to this “Indignants” thing: first, to have talked with the protesters they themselves don’t feel being the “comrades in arms” of the European young protesters. Second, the situation IS different: not struggle against a brutal slash of government expenditures so that the public sector can keep (some of) its credibility in the bond market. Actually the economic situation has been persistently good since the beginning of the crisis in 2008. So if here too “the people demands social justice” (“Ha’Am Doresh tzedek Khevrati”) it means a quite different thing than in Spain or Greece: structural reforms, not all of them proceeding from a leftist agenda (lower taxes would actually more please the American Tea Parties…) and so there isn’t this feeling of despair that could lead to skirmishes with the police or even to riots. On the contrary, I can assure you the tent-cities sometimes look like gigantic holiday camps, with Israeli artists on scene each night, sport and cultural activities… Not that the claims or not taken seriously. But the situation was not really different five years ago. And people, even if they struggle to pay the bills, have a job, which is a synonym of protection against the harshest poverty (notice “harshest”: I do not deny end of months can be tough for single moms to give just one example). And last but not least, I have to say the Israeli demonstrators are a model of calm, organization, openness and cleanness. I don’t dare imagining what such a tent-cities thing and constant demonstrations would have looked like in France. Well, they wouldn’t have happened: the youth demonstrate during the school year (not that I would imply that my fellow Frenchmen are lazy, eih ;) ) and each time vacations mean the end of the mobilization. On the contrary here people say they demonstrate BECAUSE they are on vacations. Not quite the same mentality. Maybe because all those young people are just out of their military service and have reserve periods every year. Maybe.
And what do I have to say about this “Tahrir square” comparison? Well, it’s so gross I don’t even know how to start. Maybe by saying political protests to overthrow a dictator are not quite the same as citizens of a democracy demanding lower prices. And maybe by telling the journalist that geographical proximity don’t do everything (yes, the théorie des climats by Montesquieu is outdated, I swear). Or by saying that Pour un printemps israélien is totally irrelevant, and that even if it was it has nothing to do with what is actually happening here.
P.S: it has just come to my mind that eating “cottage” might sound weird to some. So it refers to a kind of white cheese or crud cheese loved and often eaten by Israelis for breakfast with some vegetables (mostly tomatoes and cucumbers from what I know).