Protests in Israel

August 9, 2011 by Emily Gian
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If we don’t slow down, 

We will not look, we will not notice the details

We will not reach a new country

These words, by famed Israeli singer Shlomo Artzi, took on a new meaning when sung to a crowd of over 250,000 Israelis, protesting in the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday evening….writes Emily Gian.

Emily Gian

The protest is said to have been one of the largest in Israel’s history. 30,000 Israelis gathered in Jerusalem, and similar smaller rallies were held around the country from the North in Kiryat Shmona to the South in Eilat.

The enormous rally was covered by our two local broadsheets today with ‘Israelis rage against the machine over costs’ from the Australian and ‘Israel’s cost-of-living protest soars’ by new Mid-East correspondent Ruth Pollard in The Age. A variation of the Age article appeared in the sister newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, entitled ‘Protests put unflattering spotlight on Israel’. I am not sure if you would say that 250,000 young Israelis peacefully coming together in order to make significant change puts an unflattering spotlight on the country.

What the demonstrations do show is that when questions are being asked of the government a robust and enthusiastic debate is taking place which is healthy in any functioning democracy. Yet I read of other protests taking place throughout the world where violence ensues and people set fire to cars in the street or where governments shoot protesters in the face with the intention to kill them (and often they do), you have to wonder about the sort of light in which Fairfax view demonstrations. Why does a peaceful demonstration in Israel put the country under an “unflattering spotlight” while deadly violence does exactly what across the Arab world?

If the whole idea of the protests is a little confusing please read ‘The people of yesterday’ and ‘Welcome to Facebook era’ by Yair Lapid, and for a perspective from a young Israeli, please read ‘An open letter from a social justice protester’ from Jpost.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu has put together a team of 18 cabinet members who have the task of negotiating with the leaders of the protest and to come up with viable solutions that will work for the citizens and for the country’s economy (see more). With the fall in the stock market, and Israel’s defence budget, experts are predicting that Israel will need to be careful about not increasing their deficit (see more). As I said last week, time will only tell what the future will hold and this is not an issue than can be resolved overnight.

In other news, today’s Age features a story on the front page entitled ‘Rudd says abstain on Palestine vote; Gillard backs Israel’ by Daniel Flitton. This is in relation to the Palestinians upcoming bid at the United Nations for recognition as a state. Rudd is said to want to abstain on the vote in order to ‘protect Australia’s campaign for a temporary seat on the Security Council’, which is something we have read about from Flitton before. The article also states that Prime Minister Gillard supports a two state-solution and has never support unilateral moves by the Palestinians for statehood. Nevertheless, a spokesman for the government has stated, “there is no draft resolution at present… the government will make a decision on this matter closer to the time of any vote, in close consultation with our friends in Israel and the Arab world”. As September draws closer, this issue is certainly one to watch out for. In the meantime, this is hardly front page news at a time for instance when hundreds are being killed in the streets of Syria.

Finally, today’s Australian features an article on the third page entitled ‘Israeli boycotts: ACCC called in’. The article talks of a move by Victorian Consumer Affairs Minister Michael O’Brien to lodge a request to the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate anti-Israel activists for alleged secondary boycotts that target companies trading in Australia that are linked with Israel. The move came after a protest on 1 July 2011 outside Israeli chocolate chain Max Brenner led to the arrest of 19 activists after clashes with the police. Mr. O’Brien believes that section 45D of the Competition and Consumer Act, which relates to it being an offense to engage in conduct that prevents customers from buying from a business, has been potentially breached. As I have discussed here, the global BDS campaign to deligitimise Israel is despicable and Michael O’Brien should be commended for his actions. Federal MP Michael Danby must also be highly commended for his show of support to Max Brenner stores (see more here, here and here).

I am off on leave for the next few weeks but please watch this space as we will have some interesting guest writers filling this seat in the coming weeks.

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