The Dark Underbelly of the Protest Movement

Unmasking Israel's political rot, one protest at a time

As the protest movement gains momentum, it's like watching a hard avocado ripen-gradually, but unmistakably. The protests against the Judicial Overhaul aren't just rewriting history as the largest in our nation's annals; they're reshaping the political and social landscape in unprecedented ways. With each passing week, we witness a growing awareness of the entrenched political quagmire that's been lurking beneath the surface, much like the stench from a neglected sewer. It's those very sh*tty conditions that have allowed the current political tumult to fester, and for the first time, the mainstream agenda is connecting the dots. The issues that were once silenced, such as racial and economic inequality, now intersect with the undermining of the checks and balances of the Israeli regime.

This is a well-known phenomena in any protest movement that survived in the long haul: Over time, activists study the cause and dive deeper into understanding the contexts, the adjacent issues, the systems that have created and maintained the injustice, and finally the solutions to the problem. This growing awareness of systemic failures doesn't fade; it ripens, biding its time for the perfect moment to strike.

So yes, of course, we’re talking about the occupation.

When the protests in Tel Aviv were just warming up, a small group of demonstrators waved the Palestinian flag, their shirts bearing the slogan “Leibowitz was right” – alluding to Yeshayahu’s prophetic statement about the corrupting nature of the occupation. They faced a barrage of slurs and tobacco-laden spittle from members of "Brothers in Arms," one of the movement's dominant pillars.

Eventually, the Anti-Occupation Bloc was established – a group of left-wing organizations protesting together, staking their claim on the corner of Kaplan and Leonardo da Vinci streets. As their presence became routine, even the most mainstream of protesters began to understand the connection between the military occupation beyond the green line, and the attempts to weaken the judicial system – precisely in order for the executive branch to face as little hindrances as possible. And now that the Israeli public sphere is flooded with ‘charming’ figures such as Itamar Ben Gvir and Chanamel Dorfman, who epitomize what many Israelis wish to distance themselves from – the occupation of the Palestinian territories has become a topic of unprecedented relevance.

Another flashpoint is the simmering tensions between Ultra-Orthodox Jews and the secular public in Israel. Even though slogans demanding to “share the burden” have been commonplace among the Israeli center since the 1980s (more than one political party campaigned with the agenda to share in the burden of mandatory military service) – the current protest movement has brought this long standing issue to a boiling point.

We all know where this is headed: when the Conscription Bill passes, equating voluntary Torah study with mandatory military service, the very ground on which we stand will shake. Indeed, the IDF's 55-year-long occupation in the West Bank has largely been met with apathy, and even the corrosion of democratic norms over the past decade caused only mild discomfort for some. But Israelis won’t let their sons and daughters be suckers to the system. And so, as long as the Ultra-Orthodox were satisfied with just one finger, the liberal camp from Right and Left couldn’t care less. But once the Haredi leaders demanded the whole hand, in addition to showing full support for the judicial overhaul – the camel’s back began to break.

Interestingly, many within the ultra-Orthodox community recognize this precarious position. While we haven’t seen Haredi men and women hitting the streets chanting “De-mo-cra-cy’ just yet, the Ultra-Orthodox newspapers such as “Yated Ne’eman” and “Hamodia” have published pieces condemning the judicial reform, fearing it might be the first step toward forced enlistment or civil service.

And on top of all that – a fifth of the country’s population is either Muslim or Christian, and that’s not in their favor. The momentum of the protests has uncovered yet another sewer opening – where one fifth of the country’s population is systematically discriminated against, simply for not being born Jewish. Of course, Arabs in Israel have political representation, but the center-left camp in Israel could not be bothered with accepting them as true partners. Crime is rampant in the Arab sector, and there's been close to zero infrastructure planning for one of the country’s fastest-growing communities. And more fundamentally, there is no overarching narrative to provide hope, a story about an inclusive society that is also home to Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Perhaps it’s time to start seeing the Arab population as a blessing rather than a curse.

In conclusion:

  1. The protest movement, like a hurricane, is breaking down long-standing cognitive barriers (the Occupation/the Haredi population/Palestinian citizens of Israel).
  2. Every lock can be picked at the right time and place, often breaking open on its own.
  3. Determination is the name of the game
    Optimism is as essential as the protest itself.