Daniel Dor was invited in Vienna on 6 December at theBruno Kreisky Forum for international dialog. He works at the Department of Communication of the Tel Aviv University and plays a major role in the protest movement “Occupy Israel” that started in July 2011. His fascinating speech took place in a series “Democracy Reloaded” conceived by Isolde Charim. She mentioned that the Bruno Kreisky now defines itself as a public think tank and it is true that it has become over the years a real space for constructive debates. Regarding Israel, for instance, I had the pleasure to attend to the lectures given by Esther Benbassa, Shlomo Sand and Avraham Burg (see my review on E. Benbassa’s book, the report on S. Sand’s conference or the one on A. Burg‘s).
D. Dor explained he wanted to be optimistic.
As a former leftist activist (he was at the Center for the Protection of Democracy), he said that even if the government attacked the movement and demolished most of the tents, the State might have won a battle but not the war. The movement that started on 14 July (like the French RevolutionJ) on the Rothschild Avenue of Tel Aviv should not be conceived as a protest that only took place in this city. Up to 300,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv but there was also, for instance, 50,000 protesters in Jerusalem and – an interesting fact – 20,000 in a city like Beersheba which is definitely not known for its tradition of demonstration. It is in this city (almost at the entrance of the Negev) that D. Dor saw an interesting sign on a wall: “We are the people we’ve been waiting for” (see opposite).
Between parliamentary and participative democracy
New modes of organization and communication have been developed. Whereas in many former protest actions the demonstrators experienced difficulties to communicate together, a useful language of signs has been implemented in the J14 movement (crossed arms when one disagrees, rolling arms to signify repetition and so on). A former journalist, Daniel Dor also analyzes the movement he is taking part in. Together with Lia Nirgad they established a “Social Guard”, sometimes also translated as “Social Watch” (the first denomination, used by Dor during his talk in Vienna, reminds a bit of the Red Guards!). It has become a mix of parliamentary and participative democracy: citizens enroll to attend to all the commissions of the Knesset and detailed reports are published. The idea is to open the “black box” which represents the Parliament. A bunch of law specialists help them to gain legal access to the meetings and many citizens declared themselves willing to attend. For Daniel Dor, this corresponds to the Kantian idea of democracy: people want to think by themselves. There was undoubtedly a need for free speech combined with a need for action. Today, the only tent that still exists is in front of the Knesset, for the Social Guard.
Dor explained that all political parties tried to appear supportive of the movement but all their representatives were banned from the tents. The government answered with the creation of a committee (the Trachtenberg committee) but it did not fool the demonstrators. Asked about the idea to create a new party, he answered he wants to keep the diversity of backgrounds that makes the strength of the movement. He hopes that the whole political spectrum will move to the left.
Occupy Israel… occupying the West Bank
One of the satisfying results of the movement is that questions like gender equality are taken as facts and are no more issues to be discussed: it has become taken for granted for the demonstrators (whereas for many leftists it used to be a issue to address). On the other hand, there are important issues which were not tackled because it would a lead to an explosion of the movement “within a second” (as Dor said). One of them is the question whereas Israel should be defined first as a democratic or a Jewish State. To him there is a contradiction in this alternative and this cannot be discussed within the movement. It is precisely because this question was eluded that none of the people who joined the tents movement felt excluded. Arabs and settlers were demonstrating together with liberal and religious Jews. We could even see signs stating “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies”. The issues were quite down-to-earth, starting with the price of dairy products or housing. Demonstrators felt a sense of solidarity with all those who have difficulties to pay their rent, regardless of their ethnicity. At this occasion, leftists discovered for instance that among the settlers, the majority of them were just families who could not afford living in the 1967 Israel frontiers (Dorr estimates that less than 10% of the settlers are warmongers ready to die for this land).
Of course, the J14 movement is somehow connected with other protest movements that took place in Madrid, Santiago de Chile, Athens or even in the Arab countries. Some demonstrators dared using signs with “Mubarak Assad Netanyahu”, “Tahrir Place Rothschild Avenue” or “Walk like an Egyptian”. The others movements in France or Spain put a condition to a further solidarity with the J14 movement: they had to express their criticism of the occupation of the West Bank. Understanding that their movement would, there again, collapse “within a second”, they eluded the issue.
And what about the “Shakshuka System”?
Dor has the feeling that the movement already changed the society. He heard for instance a woman saying that if she does not get a descent place for her family to live in, she will not send her sons to the army… a very strong statement in a country where its army, the IDF, has become for many citizens an essential part of the Israeli identity. In Nazareth, tents surrounded by an Israeli flag and a red one have been installed between the older city (Arab inhabitants) and the Jewish part of the city (Nzareth Iliit). Next to the Social Guard, cooperatives have also been created… but the economic aspects are not always put at the core of the protest. If Israel has become the third country in the world for military expenditures per capita (behind the United Arab Emirates and the United States), it is also because of the cost of the occupation.
The need for social justice was at the core of the protest movement but did the demonstrators deal with the fact that a few families own most of Israel’s wealth? This was the topic of a film by Ilan Aboody, The Shakshuka System, shown during the last Jewish Film Festival in Vienna (thanks to the artist Tal Adler). I asked Daniel Dor if “nationalization” was for example a word evoked by the demonstrators or in their political offspring, the Social Guard, but he did not answer, because we had already talked during two hours. I will try to ask him per email ( see below).
In any case, I strongly recommend any talks or article you could find by Daniel Dor and it was a great idea to invite him in Vienna at the Bruno Kreisky Forum! Weiter so für die Veranstalterinnen!
Email from Daniel Dor from January 16th: “There is a general sense that nationalization could be part of the solution, as part of the problem is rampant privatization of services that were formally run by the state, but there’s also a lot of suspicion around the idea – the last wave of protest in the 70s was very much around state control, so, you know, it’s complicated. The more interesting route that a lot of people take is that of co-opeartives – groups of people organizing local co-operative soslutions in different areas.” => TODA DANIEL!