Is the dream of Zionism crumbling?

The founding social contract of Zionism was based on the notion that all Jews must stick together, especially in combat against Arabs but also otherwise against a hostile world, and in exchange they would enjoy the benefits of a welfare state.

(Haggai Matar, an Israeli journalist and political activist)

There is a new (and in my view a positive) take on military service refusal in Israel. It flared up from an unexpected, and a very tragic angle.  In July 2012, a man set himself on fire in public; thousands took to the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva; and Guy Tamar, a first sergeant (res.) in the engineering corps. declared:

Recent events cracked something within me. You can say my eyes were once closed, and the social justice protests opened them in such a way that I can’t go back.

Ruth Hiller from New Profile sketched the events leading up to the mass protest:

e-mail, 17 July 2012

Dear Friends,

I hope all is well.

I don’t know how many of you are following the newest wave of social protest going on in Israel. Saturday, July 14th marked a year since it began, and demonstrations were held in most of the larger cities in Israel. During the demonstration in Tel Aviv, Moshe Silman, a social activist from Haifa, who is unemployed and homeless, read a letter that he wrote to the government having been refused social benefits and rent assistance several times, and set himself on fire. The act in itself is horrific and sad. Moshe has burns on 96% of his body, is in a medically induced coma and is being ventilated. This is a tragedy for his family and for Israel, as so much could have been done to help him so that he would not have to reach this level of extreme desperation.

The discussion of why Moshe Silman and why he did what he did is very today’s discussion all over Israel. Here is a man who once owned his own small trucking business and an apartment. But due to debts incurred to the National Insurance Institute (our Social Security system), he had to claim bankruptcy and lost his home. Additionally he then suffered a series of small strokes and was unable to seek employment. From here everything was then downhill for him and in spite of the many applications for financial aid, he was deemed ineligible.  Moshe Silman’s sister gave several TV and radio interviews and shared with the Israeli public how he used to be a very proud man and how his sense of pride was beaten.

Other people in Israel have committed suicide, leaving testimonies of great shame in their inability to maintain their households and support their families… it is difficult for me to comprehend the choice of taking one’s life to prove a point. At the same time while it is not my place to criticize the act, I also can’t rationalize and call Moshe Silman a social justice hero. I would not want others, who have reached similar levels of desperation, to take their lives. (Just this morning a man tried to set himself on fire before the National Insurance Institute offices in Be’er Sheva, but was stopped on time by a security guard.) Moshe is not one case, and there are many other Israeli citizens, from all the ethnic sectors, who are experiencing the same systematic red tape treatment by governmental offices. However the social movement has been consistent in one aspect from the get go, and has kept matters of social services, affordable medical services, and affordable housing high up on the agenda.

Now Haggai Matar, a colleague and fellow activist in New Profile, writes about an new phenomena within the Israel social protest – conscientious objection in protest of neo-liberalism and the lack of social justice. I think you will find the article…on the online magazine +972, of much interest.

All the best,

Ruth

Group of J14 activists to refuse military reserve duty

Moshe Silman, who set himself on fire sparked a new wave of angry J14 protests against the Israeli government. Thousands of demonstrators marched the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and Be’er Sheva, enraged by anti-social policies and by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response to the event, which he defined it a “personal tragedy.”

Protesters carried copies of Silman’s suicide letter (parts of which were omitted in the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom), and chanted slogans such as “every man is Moshe Silman” and “Netanyahu – go home!”

In Tel Aviv more than a thousand demonstrators blockaded government buildings and blocked main roads, including the Ayalon Highway, and gained much support from car and even train drivers passing by. While in Tel Aviv police did not intervene, In Jerusalem six were arrested while blocking roads. Late at night the  entrance to the National Insurance Institute (Bituah Leumi) building in Ramat Gan was set on fire, and graffiti was sprayed reading: “Price tag for Moshe Silman.”

One of the protesters in Tel Aviv was 39-year-old Guy Tamar who is a first sergeant (res.) in the engineering corps who says:

I was careful not to reach this point before, but on a day such as this there is no choice. I will no longer defend a state that does not defend its citizens.

Within hours five more reserve service men, two of them officers, sent him their names and ranks and asked to join the initiative, as did two ex-servicemen.

I had problems with the way the army does things in the past, but I felt like it was important to be there and make a difference. But recent events cracked something within me. You can say my eyes were once closed, and the social justice protests opened them in such a way that I can’t go back.

And then the words that I find so encouraging:

We mustn’t worship the army, but rather the lives of citizens and all others who live here. Before equal duties we must talk of equal rights. The government must understand that we are rejecting the militaristic discourse.

Read the full article with photos here.

In another step, Abigail Disney an investor in Shamrock Holdings, the Disney family investment fund that owns a part of Ahava, decided to donate her profits to the ending of the occupation.

Ahava’s main factory is located in an Israeli settlement, and is owned by companies deeply invested in Israel’s illegal settlement project.  She says:

While I will always hold my colleagues and coworkers in the highest regard, I cannot in good conscience profit from what is technically the “plunder” or “pillage” of occupied natural resources and the company’s situating its factory in an Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank. Because of complicated legal and financial constraints I am unable to withdraw my investment at this time, but will donate the corpus of the investment as well as the profits accrued to me during the term of my involvement to organizations working to end this illegal exploitation.

These Israelis and Jews who have the guts to stand up for justice remind me of those in my country during the apartheid years who were willing to face the critique of society when they said that apartheid must end.  The occupation of Palestine will end too.

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