Monday, August 8, 2011

Israel’s revolution will not be televised

As the Netanyahu government continues to sit aside in a state of total inertia, the protests which threaten to topple his administration only continue to swell. “Tel Aviv was bursting at the seams on Saturday night,” Gideon Levy wrote in his Haaretz op-ed. “It was not the mother of all protests – it was the grandmother of all protests. The city looked like one of the stormiest cities on earth.”

All across Israel, whilst numbers vary at this moment, it can asserted that over 300,000 and possibly as many as 350,000 people marched to question the government, calling upon them to solve the nation’s housing crisis which has left a whole generation unable to afford their own habitats in the country’s major metropolises. Protest centred, as they have over the past few weeks, on Tel Aviv, where 200,000 took to the streets, all unified by the slogan, “The people demand social justice”.

“We know that we cannot achieve everything,” Itzik Shmuly, Chair of the Israeli National Union of Students told those assembled in Tel Aviv. “But living here has become impossible, and we will not accept it.” The municipality’s response so far has been meagre to say the least. Approval has been fast-tracked for 69 new apartments in Shapira, a disadvantaged neighbourhood in the south of the city, with the project’s architect Orit Milbauer-Eyal saying that the project will “allow the middle class to buy an apartment at a reasonable price”.

A national crisis of this magnitude however requires a proportionate response from Jerusalem. For, in a different, some might say apolitical guise, the Arab Spring has come to Israel. Although those in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are not specifically calling for Netanyahu’s head, when almost 5pc of the total population spills out onto the boulevards and avenues to openly query the government’s competence, it must be recognised that we bear witness to a seismic event in the nation’s short history; one which, even if indirectly, may signal the conclusion of this government.

Given this – the scale and significance of demonstrations not seen in Israel until now – it is all the more disappointing that Media has failed to match these dimensions with the appropriate amount of coverage. As far, the whole thing’s been very patchy. The Daily Beast earns points for having it as their lead story, but in this age of breaking news, some four hours after the protests concluded, the BBC, Huffington Post, New York Times and Guardian had no coverage on their front pages.

The Guardian’s early attempts at journalism on this matter were atrocious and inaccurate, with Tel Aviv cited as the capital of Israel in its movie-reel of previous housing protests. And, for most of Saturday evening, minimal reportage was buried below a story more akin to their typical agenda, on bias in Israeli textbooks. Even the morning after the night before, Arianna Huffingpo still couldn’t find any room for the story, though there is ample space for hard-hitting pieces on invisible sharks, Lady Gaga in drag and Emma Watson’s possible new beau.

The obvious problem with these rallies is that the cause just isn’t sexy or titillating enough. After all, the people corralled on Rothschild Boulevard aren’t talking about any of the things The Guardian usually finds so stimulating about the Land of Israel: the occupation, settlements, and boycotts.

Nor are they calling for the sorts of regime change seen in Tunis and Cairo which captivated the global imagination this past spring. Quite the opposite, organisers have deliberately sought to avoid party politics. “We are not asking to change the prime minister,” Stav Shafir, a founder of the Tel Aviv tent city, told Israeli television. “We are asking to change the system”.

Although Israel’s housing crisis is linked into the wider conflict with the Palestinians (since in the same period as zero public housing projects were constructed in Tel Aviv, 48.4pc of new units built in West Bank settlements were paid for by Jerusalem), J14 is a domestic manner. It’s about access to housing, income inequality, social justice, globalisation and the impact of market capitalism on a micro economy.

None of this is banner headline material, and thus we are felt with a void in our newspapers and on our television screens. “When Israelis protest the cost of living, as they do in Madrid and elsewhere – suddenly it’s not a story?” Ami Kaufman appealed in +972. “When it comes to Israel, it’s not interesting? We’re only occupiers, right? What kind of news editors are you guys holding up there? Seriously, are you telling me this isn’t a story?” Israelis will need to carry on regardless, then, for the revolution will not be televised. The collapse of the government will have to be live.