J14 activists launch political party, radical by Israeli standards

The party has been defined the “parliamentarian branch” of the struggle for social justice, and its initial platform includes promotion of direct democracy, public control over natural resources and the financial system, and an end to the military regime in the occupied territories and all other forms of discrimination.

J14 protesters burn government reports that weren’t implemented, Tel Aviv, July 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protesters burn government reports that weren’t implemented, Tel Aviv, July 7, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

Some 200 activists gathered in a south Tel Aviv warehouse last Thursday to launch the “parliamentarian branch” of the J14 movement for social justice in Israel – i.e., a political party. Following the event, a new (Hebrew) website was put up with the party’s very initial guidelines for an agenda, and activists are now planning to get more people to join and develop the platform further.

In mapping out the different parts of J14, one can say that the people behind this initiative are the more radical and independent faction, the one which strongly opposes the focus given by other groups only to the suffering of the middle class. It also calls for solidarity instead of militarism in the matter of “equal burden-sharing” of military service, and with those activists who declared their refusal to serve in the army due to the economic state of affairs. It is also the faction that has been steering away from both the more mainstream Labor (Avoda) and Yair Lapid party events, while at the same time keeping a careful distance from its more immediate partners in Hadash (the front that includes the Communist Party).

Roughly speaking, this is the faction that successfully led several thousand people out into the streets on leaderless marches mainly in Tel Aviv’s streets, without funding or speakers. It seems safe to say that it includes people from various backgrounds (though all are Jewish) who have undergone political radicalization over the past year by way of collective learning from the harsh social reality, and who have not found their place within the existing political system. Confrontations were more than once reported between this group and Hadash and Meretz activists who brought their party signs to demonstrations.

Now, however, it seems that activists are ready to try changing the system from within, or as they put it in their platform: “To enter the Knesset in order to disperse it and bring about popular elections for a democratic-federal constitution to change the system of government, social organization and the economy in Israel.”

J14 protest in Tel Aviv assembling in Habimah Square, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)
J14 protest in Tel Aviv assembling in Habimah Square, June 23, 2012 (photo: activestills.org)

Attempts at a new political discourse

The preliminary platform and other texts available on the movement/party’s site suggest a radical worldview, at the same time making use of concepts that are new to Israeli political discourse. For example, while no mention is made of the word “occupation” and no solution is offered to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the platform does suggest the notion, revolutionary in local terms, that “equality will apply to every person living under Israeli rule.”

Similarly, touching on the question of the “Jewish-democratic state,” activists go to lengths to explain the changes they see as necessary for the political system, while essentially pronouncing the end of Zionism as we know it and promising collective rights for Jews (and all other national or religious collectives). This notion I shall soon elaborate on in a separate post.

The platform also doesn’t offer any kind of step-by-step plan for the economy, yet speaks clearly about public control (as opposed to state control) of natural resources and the financial system, and about democratization of work places, including sharing profits with workers. In all three examples above, writers of the platform use simple wording, and insist on demonstrating how these principles are the required outcome of any position of equality and social justice.

The party’s positions are not easy to place within the current political map of Israeli society. First of all, because much like the Pirate parties in post-crisis Europe, it puts great emphasis on changing the entire system of governance, promoting transparency and direct democracy, and shifting to social modules based on “open source” techniques.

In addition, the party tends towards a very libertarian discourse, focusing on complete freedom for the individual, yet escapes the capitalist-individualist nature of most such agendas by stressing the notion of strong community-based networks and high levels of equality, to be protected by the system. In this sense, it is most certainly a radical left party. In a way, one can say the new party echoes prominent elements from the Western “occupy” movements (such as the resistance to any recognizable leaders) while mixing them with unique local political conditions.

Will they reach the masses of last year? Kikar Hamedina – March of Million – 3.9.11
Will they reach the masses of last year? Kikar Hamedina – March of Million – 3.9.11

 A promise with many challenges

I think that the basic platform currently put forward by the still nameless party does a good job at capturing the spirit of the very first days of J14 from last summer, as I and others tried to lay out at the time. It redefines the notion of “the people” in this land, and challenges the existing political system with a new discourse that successfully avoids leftist elitism and that is very communicative to the Israeli public. In that sense, this is a very promising step.

However, at the same time, one cannot ignore the massive barriers standing in this movement’s way. It will have to overcome the growing hostility to J14 by the once protest-friendly mainstream media; to re-ignite optimism and a belief in the future within the hundreds of thousands (or even millions) who trusted in the possibility of change last summer and now are more skeptical; and more than anything else it will have to tackle the greatest challenge in the Israeli left: to build bridges of cooperation between Palestinians and Jews against the prevailing racist hegemony without losing ground and relevancy within the wider Jewish public.

These are heavy tasks to take on, with few chances of success, yet they are without a doubt important ones, which, dealt with properly, might contribute greatly to the development of Israeli civil society.