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Israel’s Tent Protests: an alternative view

This is a guest post by Israelinurse

Last week the following message from the New Israel Fund dropped into quite a few mail boxes:

From: Rachel Liel, NIF <info@nif.org>
Date: Thu, Aug 4, 2011 at 7:35 PM
Subject: This is big (and getting bigger)
To:
150,000 of my fellow Israelis went into the streets Saturday night to demand a better, more just Israel. The demonstration was the high-point (so far) in a protest movement born just three weeks ago.

This is a grassroots phenomenon with huge popular support. It’s the first real challenge to how the Israeli government does business.

We need your help to keep pushing for social justice. NIF has provided a series of small, emergency grants to groups taking part in the protest. We’ve nearly blown through our emergency grant pool!

Will you make a contribution to keep up the momentum?

The protests started out about affordable housing, but they’re really about the make-up of Israeli society. Israel’s middle class is shrinking. Ten years ago, it was one-third of the population. Now it’s down to less than one-quarter. And while enormous sums are spent on West Bank settlements, the social safety net is disappearing beneath our feet.

Some people say that Israel is a “start-up nation.” That’s true for those at the top, but — as things stand now — it’s a “slide-down nation” for too many of the rest of us.

Now, Israelis from all walks of life — secular, Orthodox, Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Arab, immigrant– have joined to create the most significant push for progressive change in a decade.

Stand with these Israelis. Stand for social justice, for equality, and for democracy.

NIF-backed organizations are a part of this effort. Our Shatil organizers are in the field, lending expertise at protest sites all over the country. And our emergency grants help sustain the activists in their ongoing protest.

None of us knows for sure what this movement will achieve, but we do know that the government is hoping that the protests will just fizzle out. We can’t let that happen. The people in the streets want to keep the pressure on. They’re coming to us for help.

Show your solidarity with the Israeli street. Make a contribution now.

This is exciting! Protesters all over the country, from all walks of life, are working to transform Israel. They demand social justice. They demand government accountability and transparency.

This is our moment to press for the progressive and democratic values we cherish.

Thank you for everything,

Rachel Liel
Executive Director in Israel

P.S. – The energy out in the streets is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Help NIF make the most of this moment.

Rachel Liel, formerly a government employee in two ministries and in recent years holding prominent positions in two NGOs, lives in Tel Aviv and is married to a former Israeli diplomat and government official now working in the private sector and, amongst other things, director of an investment company. Her words regarding ‘those at the top’ therefore ring more than a little hypocritical.

A few days later, a second e-mail arrived from the New Israel Fund:

From: Daniel Sokatch, NIF <info@nif.org>

Date: Mon, Aug 8, 2011 at 10:04 PM
Subject: FW: This is big (and getting bigger)


I’ve never been more proud to be a part of the New Israel Fund.
An unprecedented number of Israelis are pressing for social justice. More than 300,000 took to the streets on Saturday night! Their supporters here in the United States are standing with them in ways that really count. Since Rachel sent out this email Thursday, we’ve raised more than $15,000!

And just in time — NIF emergency grants helped cover expenses related to the massive demonstrations that took place Saturday.

Let’s keep up the momentum. Let’s stand with these Israelis — for social justice, for equality, and for democracy.

This is too important a moment to let pass.

Daniel Sokatch
CEO, New Israel Fund

Some have also received a copy of the ‘Tent Protest Instruction Manual’ from Shatil – the NIF’s operational partner in Israel with instructions and advice on how to set up a protest.

Alongside its genuine social activism, the New Israel Fund has been the subject of criticism in Israel because of its financing of a number of NGOs which promote the dissolution of Israel as a Jewish state.

On Tuesday night, Israel’s Channel 10 news revealed that one of the donors financing the protests is S. Daniel Abraham – the Jewish billionaire from Florida who made his money from the diet drink ‘Slim-Fast’. In the phone interview Abraham admitted (later trying to contain the fall-out) that his motive is political rather than social.

“I support the protest. I’ve always supported these things. I mean I’ve always been for the peace process and against the ..err…building and settlements and stuff like that. They are counter-productive to spending money within the Green Line and on social problems that are productive to the people within Israel and the people that contribute to the welfare of the country.”

“The best way to get social benefits to the people – for housing, for education, for health care, to raise the standard of living of the average Israeli – is to end our support for settlements in the West Bank and excess settlements for err.. the… err Haredim support.”

Whilst Abraham declined to state how much money he has donated to the tent protests or via which organization, he is known to have ties to the New Israel Fund and to J Street. He also set up his own ‘Center for Middle East Peace’ in the US and funds the Peres Centre for Peace, of which he is a board member. Abraham was named in investigations of one of former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert’s property deals.

His involvement in Middle East politics goes back a long way, including significant activity in facilitating and bankrolling the Oslo process. Some of his colleagues and business  associates, including the first president of his Centre for Middle East Peace and a former fellow board member of the Peres Center for Peace, were named in connection with  the under-investigated embezzlement of some $300 million of donations (aimed at bettering the lives of the Palestinian people) from the international community to the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat. Most of that money was never recovered; it disappeared around the beginning of the second Intifada via several straw companies and it is suspected that some of it went towards financing the terror attacks which killed over 1,000 Israeli citizens.

All of this provides food for thought on several points.

One of the subjects rightly raised by the protesters is the subject of ‘big money’: the connection between tycoons, monopolies, price fixing and its effect upon the subsequent cost of living for the man and woman in the street.   Like most Western countries, Israel has issues on the subject of what we call in Hebrew ‘Hon VeShilton’: capital and government. Money buys power and influence and clearly that does not apply merely to the price of cottage cheese. Can the protest movement remain legitimate if it allows itself to be bankrolled by big money with political motives whilst at the same time protesting against big money with financial motives?

Unlike the Israeli politicians also involved in the architecture of the Oslo Accords, Daniel Abraham and other foreign actors have never been held accountable by the Israeli people for their results because accountability can only take place at the ballot box – something Abraham, among others, bypasses by means of his money and influence.  He is therefore at liberty to continue to promote an agenda which has not only excelled in its failure, but to which the majority of Israeli voters long since wised up.

Do the protesters on Israel’s streets really wish to be pawns for a man who thinks he knows better than the Israeli electorate what is best for their country? Are they content to have their democracy trampled by foreigners with fortunes who will never have to live with the consequences of the agendas they promote for Israel? Is the cause of ‘social justice’ really served by accepting cash from a man with the self-admitted aim of exacerbating the divisions in society by promoting the ‘them against us’ agenda?

What is happening in Israel right now needs to be an internal conversation. It concerns the structure of Israeli society and issues arising from the policies adopted by the democratically elected government of that country.  It should not be allowed to become a means by which foreigners frustrated by the lack of progress in the peace process, be they billionaires or contributors to the NIF and other organisations, can promote their own personally  consequence-free agendas whilst totally ignoring the opinions of the Israeli electorate. Above all, it should not become an instrument for what it purports to oppose:  big money running roughshod over democracy, unfettered by the rules and regulations to which the ‘little people’ conform.

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