Normalcy, hope and the Israeli tent protesters


Hope, one of the most powerful and fickle of human emotions, was a philosophical obsession of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th century Jewish philosopher. Spinoza paid a high social price in dedicating his life to the creation of philosophic system which valued rationalism above all else, especially hope and fear. The Israeli tent protests, which have rocked the country and this site over the last six weeks, have thrived on a momentum of hope in the absence of concrete language and goals. Similar to the historic presidential campaign of Barak Obama, the tent protests have been heavy on feelings but light on specific measures with which to carry them out.

Last week, Max Blumenthal and I published an article, based on extensive reporting, which described the core problems that we see in the tent protest movement. We argue that the separation principle and the form of cognitive dissonance which upholds it in Israeli society has been left untouched by the tent protests in an attempt to garner massive public support. Ultimately we claim that the tent protests are an example of the successful implementation of the separation principle in so far as they officially ignore the rights of all under Israeli rule.

More than two years ago, a social movement arose in Israel which has steadily grown despite incredible pressures from various forces. The Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, ostensibly embracing and acting for social justice through direct action, began in East Jerusalem as Israeli activists started to demonstrate in solidarity with Palestinians evicted from their homes by Israel in an attempt to solidify control over the conflicted city.

SJ Solidarity began as a reformulation of the Israeli left but its steadily rising numbers of Israeli participants over the years, many unfamiliar with political activism let alone Palestinian solidarity, have pushed it closer to the mainstream in Israel.

Many have been critical of SJ Solidarity, myself included, but there is little doubt that the movement is here to stay. Instead of harassing hope for a shared future with Palestinians through the deployment of flowery language of vague togetherness, Sheikh Jarrah has focused on action. It has been clear about its intentions, political positions and goals. After six weeks of unprecedented protests, it is time for the tent protesters to follow a similar program and define their political positions and, more importantly, their goals.

In the absence of concrete goals and positions, rifts have emerged between traditional partners over the tent protests. For the most part, Palestinians have been clear that a social justice movement that maintains official silence on the occupation is virtually impossible for them to support.

The occupation aside, some of the rifts created by the tent protests between Israelis and internationals, center on an important issue, Israeli normalcy. As seen in the emotional comments of my colleague Noam Shiezaf, the ability of Israelis to live as a normal people and exercise their right to hold political demonstrations about issues of their choosing is an important part of how the tent protests have been internalized in Israel. The tent protests are an example of this right in action. Therefore, the perceived rejection of this right  is akin to a personal attack and even as a rejection of Israeli identity in total. This is, perhaps, the most profound demonstration of the cognitive dissonance which Blumenthal and I address in our piece.

The demonstrators in SJ Solidarity, however implicitly, do not argue that Israel is a normal society. They argue for change, understanding that the actions of the Israeli government in occupied East Jerusalem are a symptom of a society anything but normal. Far from denying the Israeli right to normalcy; SJ Solidarity has, in practice, rejected the type of hopeful language employed by the tent protests in order to work on changing the issues which cause Israel’s normalcy problem.

A movement willing to suspend criticism and embrace forms of cognitive dissonance should and must be criticized using the existing social and political structures of the society. Papering over Israel’s dysfunctions with vague notions of social justice while lashing out at critics is not a recipe for a lasting revolution. The sooner that Israelis recognize this, the greater the prospects for a true revolution of consciousnesses inside Israeli society.  Hope left unfulfilled can result in tragic outcomes.