Saturday, 10 September 2011



During the summer of 2011, Israel, which promotes itself as a 'democratic' nation surrounded by authoritarian regimes, faced massive popular protests against the economic policies of the conservative coalition government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. One explanation is that the Arab Spring has infected the 'Israeli Summer' civil disobedience protests. Another explanation is that the Israeli middle class, mostly educated professionals and youths that compose the mass protest movement, are actually part of a larger global protest movement that has affected Europe and some Latin American countries like Chile.

After all, cost of living, high housing costs, and unemployment above 6%, according to some accounts, entails that the masses will push back and demand changes from their politicians. Moreover, the mode of operations on the part of the protesters appears closer to those of Spain, Greece, Portugal and Italy - all bourgeois societies - than it does of 'Arab Spring' countries that have a more polarized socioeconomic structure than Europe.

A third explanation is that secular Jews who are mostly behind the protests are merely fed up with the status quo that encompasses domestic and foreign policy in a country that has known only war in its entire history. The protests are a reflection of a new generation that wants an end to war as a way of life. When an estimated 300,000 people pour into the streets of Tel Aviv, it is not merely because of cost of living and unemployment, but of broader social justice issues that may appear to conservative Americans as 'socialist' or at least 'social-democratic'.

Although the government is working with academics to see what it can do about addressing some of the grievances that civil disobedience protesters have advanced, I expect that it will be nearly impossible for the regime to transition into the kind of social welfare state in the absence of resolving the Palestinian question and ending hostilities with its neighbors. In short, unless Israel ends the apartheid regime and war economy, its domestic problems will not go away any time soon.


The obvious foreign policy problem is the seemingly hopeless Palestinian question, especially now that it is headed for a UN vote for statehood and the US under Israeli lobby pressure has threatened to use its veto. The UN vote will be a world-wide condemnation of Israel, as Palestinians see it, or at the very least, lack of support for the Netanyahu administration as some in Israel see it. The UN General Assembly vote comes at a time of massive domestic problems, and rising tensions between Israel and Turkey and Egypt.

The Turkish-Israeli meltdown of diplomatic relations has been ongoing for more than three years, and culminated when Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan decided in January 2009 to embrace more openly and closely blunt, some call it Islamist and anti-Semitic, rhetoric against Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, especially in Gaza. That was followed by the flotilla incident where Israeli commandos killed Turkish nationals trying to deliver supplies to Gaza in May 2010.

A UN report leaked to the press recently, placed blame on both the Turkish and Israeli side, thereby angering Erdogan who announced that Turkey will send a flotilla to Gaza accompanied by the Turkish navy; clearly a provocation of war, and an act that the US and NATO will never permit. However, the UN report coincides with the Israeli-Cypriot deal for deep sea energy (hydrocarbons) exploration deal with US-based Noble Energy. This deal has been known to the world for two years, but Turkey is determined to have its share of the riches, or at least use the energy issue as leverage for other concessions. Turkey has threatened to send its navy to prevent deep sea drilling, thus involving both the EU and NATO in the entangled affair in order to lower the rhetoric. At the same time, Turkey sent a strong signal to Israel that it is encroaching in the Eastern Mediterranean and that Turkey will protect its interests as it sees fit.

The Turkish-Israeli diplomatic meltdown is now complicated by the Egyptian-Israeli meltdown, culminating in the storming of the Israeli embassy by Egyptian protesters on 9 September 2011. Israel called on the US for help, but the US would only reaffirm its anti-Arab policy if it does interfere in any manner other than indirectly. The entire affair started when Israelis killed five Egyptian police in August, an incident for which the government in Tel Aviv apologized but it was insufficient as far as angry Egyptian are concerned. Why take out their frustrations on the Israeli embassy when the reality is that the revolution in Egypt has not brought the changes that the people demanded?

Israel is a symbol and it may be the rallying point around which a second revolution takes place, unless the provisional government moves quickly to broad political, social and economic reforms. My guess is that Egypt will move toward some type of military or authoritarian regime to contain mass protests that may evolve into revolution. Israel as well as the US and many European governments would feel much safer with Egypt under a dictatorship. No matter what unfolds in Egypt, Israel is facing even more hostile neighbors as a result of Arab Spring than before. The convergence of domestic and foreign policy crisis may force the US in an election year to push Israel toward some form of reconciliation with the Palestinians, but would the Israeli lobby permit such bold foreign policy moves?

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