An Israeli Spring? No Way!

July 31, 2011 by Raffe Gold
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The last several months have been a tumultuous time for the Middle East. Waves of protests have sprung up, ignited by the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit seller, that have led to the destruction of a number of dictatorial regimes and civil wars in others. Rarely, if ever, was the name ‘Israel’ incorporated into the fury of the Arab street as it demonstrated against the oppression it had suffered…instead the word ‘democracy’ was what rallied the people. 

Raffe Gold

Israel remained mostly unaffected to the anger of the Arabs and the eventual explosion of desire for democratic reforms in her Arab neighbors. Yet on July 14 protests did come to Israel when some misguided commentators compared  them with the uprisings on the Arab street.

An objective analysis, however, shows that nothing could be further from the truth.

It has been quite a few months for Israel. Our citizens here watched as Tunisia fell, celebrated when Libyans were swept up in their fervor for human rights and viewed with concern the moment when President Mubarak was forced aside in Egypt. We looked over our northern border and watched in horror as thousands of Syrians,  confronting the jackboot murderous army officers, begged for the right to demonstrate, only to be gunned down unarmed.

Yet Israel was forced to respond when protestors, undoubtedly urged by the Syrian army begging for a distraction, stormed her borders. As each day passes we watch as the status quo, Middle Eastern dictators and kleptocrats who for decades have ruled and stolen from their people, is thrown to the wind. We wondered what would happen to the people of this benighted region, a vast landmass which the enlightenment of the democratic 20th Century seems to have forgotten, begins to clamor for its natural human rights. The right to worship as they wish, to live their lives free from fear and tyranny, and to express opinions without incurring the wrath of those in charge. These protestors brave imprisonment, bullets and mortars for but a glimpse of these rights and for this they should be celebrated throughout the world.

In an interview with YouTube earlier this year Prime Minister Netanyahu commented on the Arab Spring by saying that “there is only one country, in the heart of the Middle East, which has no tremors, no protests, and that’s Israel because we’re the only genuine democracy”.  If only he could see his country just a few short months later.

On July 14 about 50 tents were erected on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv spurned on by a disgruntled renter shocked at the high prices. These tent cities have now sprung up throughout the country and have been joined by a massive street protest in Tel Aviv, which saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets. These protestors have spawned a number of other protests by people in other professions, primarily the doctors who have been striking for over 3 months, who also demand a better standard of living. These protests have led some commentators to link the Arab Spring with what is happening in Israel today. The two are incomparable.

The protestors who are turning out in increasing numbers throughout the country are protesting for their livelihoods. They are able to stand free and tall and shout at the government; they feel their representatives are derelict in their duty to ensure a basic standard of living in an age of relative prosperity. They do so because of those who came before them in Israel and throughout the West, people who demonstrated against their elected representatives on matters of social justice and equity. Just as there are daily protests in America, Australia, England and other sophisticated Western democracies against prices, incomes, social inequity or living conditions, so Israeli citizens are telling its government to share the wealth of the nation with more of its underprivileged citizens.

From those who prophesied democracy in Ancient Greece to those promoted it during the French Revolution, the fight for democracy has come at the cost of many lives. Today it is coming at the cost of Syrian, Tunisian, Iranian and Egyptian lives. The people who are suffering today under the attempts to crush the Arab Spring are joining a cause that has been conducted by people throughout time, and they deserve their freedoms.

Those who are living on the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Herzliya, Beer Sheva and the rest of the country, do so for reasons which are personal and idiosyncratic, protestors who are threatening their government not with the bullet but with the ballot. One cannot deny the worthiness of their cause and they should be supported. The cost of living is too high, the boycott bill should be abolished and some laws being proposed by some parties in the Knesset are leading it down a dangerous path.

However, we, as a democracy, have avenues of complaint and can ensure that this country remains the beacon of freedom that we know it is and will be once again. But when we protest we do not face bullets or tanks, we do not face indiscriminate imprisonment and arbitrary arrest. We protest peacefully and quietly and the fruits of our revolution will come from  democracy and not from demagoguery.

We join with our brothers and sisters in the streets of their capitals demanding freedom and we, as Israelis, Jews and human beings, welcome their free states to the community of nations with open arms provided they do not wish us ill. The belief that we are in the midst of an Israeli Spring is insulting to those who lie waiting in prisons or those who are being buried by their thousands with the tears of their families flowing freely. We in Israel will always have our Spring, our democracy will always prevail when the people demand it and our people today are protesting for it. Let us not compare our current struggle with those brave Arabs who today beg for the same rights that we all enjoy.

Raffe Gold is a political science graduate and Israeli immigrant. He can be reached at twitter.com/raffeg


 

 

 

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