chapter  4
49 Pages

The politics and roles of Israeli (Jewish) protest groups

The politics and role/s of Jewish protest groups in Zionist Israel are examined in this chapter, following a similar structure to that of Chapter 3 which investigated the case of apartheid South Africa. It provides a description and an analysis for a sample of Israeli (Jewish) protest groups that represents the wide political spectrum in which they function, and focuses on their politics, political platforms and roles in peace building. The overall comparison between the two cases, on both the macro and micro levels, is made in Chapter 5, which will also infer patterns in each and across the two cases. The argument of this study is based on the premise that exclusionary political systems in both ethnic national states left very little space for the establishment of a politically independent civil society able to organize political opposition to the state. In both cases, state and society developed interlocking relations based on ideology and political consensus vis-à-vis the Other, the enemy. As such, protest groups, as a component of civil society continue/d, by a majority, to function according to the frameworks designed by the state and in accordance with the national consensus. They also continue/d to be small and rather marginal in size and influence. However, the author believes that when conditions have been/are conducive (e.g. change in the intermediate variables such as balance of power internally and internationally), their influence and its direction, though small, becomes significant. The Israeli protest groups are examined here to see if their protest and role fits with this argument. The two dependent variables discussed here are the politics and role/s of Israeli protest groups, but it must be kept in mind that they depend on an independent variable that is, in this case, the state political system. Chapter 4 has seven sections. This introductory section also explains the kind of data used here. The second and third sections discuss the context in which Israeli protest groups function, and categorize both group and individual activism. The fourth section examines the two sub-categories of the liberal Zionist protest groups: the mainstream liberals and the critical liberals, and the fifth discusses the leftist (non-Zionist and anti-Zionist) protest groups. Following a brief discussion about Israelis who have joined the PLO factions in their personal

capacities, the conclusion sums up the main political features and roles of Israeli protest groups and makes a link to Chapter 5. The material used in this chapter is based on primary and secondary data. The author held over fifty semi-structured interviews with Israeli activists, heads of NGOs, party members and academics, and the interviewees included men and women representing different age groups and political affiliation (as well as some without, e.g. the anarchists) across the Israeli political spectrum. Some belonged to organized grassroots activism while others belonged to an elite that is close to the circles of policy-making, but retains connections with grassroots level groups. They are elite in the sense that they are close to, or part of, the ‘influentials’,1 especially when the political environment is conducive to this. As opinion formers, this Israeli elite contributes to the debate on state and public needs, interests, values, and the ends and means of a state. It brings pragmatic liberal points of view to the public debate. The Israeli ‘liberal’ elite works from within the ideological national consensus, and contributes to shaping the political national consensus,2 since the first feeds the second. It is important to note that, compared with the case of South Africa, this elite has been more confined. It has not managed to galvanize and mobilize similar support for its pragmatic liberal views among major players of the competitive circle of the political elites.3 The latter includes persons who hold leading positions in big businesses, trade unions, synagogues and professional and community organizations. Other primary data sources used here were brochures, the webpages of protest groups, and publications of selected protest groups, whose advertisements in Israeli and (sometimes) Palestinian newspapers were also included. The Israeli media were also scrutinized, especially Ha’aretz, the main Zionist ‘left’ newspaper. Secondary data was also well considered and used.