Holding Protest Movements Together is Tricky


            Salvador, Brazil          There is no question that there has been a mass movement in Israel in opposition to the anti-democratic lurching to the far right that seems to have been the price Benjamin Netanyahu was more than willing to pay to return to power.  The biggest flashpoint has been the attempt to gut the judiciary so that it would be unable to overturn anti-secular and conservative policies being promoted by the most militantly conservative members of the political and parliamentary coalition.  Off and on for months, both before the vote and after, literally hundreds of thousands have been in the street, waving the Israeli flag, and bringing cities to a halt.  In this small country that also depends on military service for its security, many soldiers, as part of the protest, have also threatened to refuse voluntary duty.  The court hasn’t ruled on all of this new legislation, but the entire political drama and the response in the streets has been riveting.

No small part of the protests has also been triggered by the attempts of conservative parties to subordinate and regulate women.  Mass protests and rallies broke out when a bus driver forced young teenage women to sit in the back of the bus and cover themselves with blankets for wearing shorts and tops.  “The Haredi parties and Netanyahu laid out a plan to impose a fine” equivalent to $2600 “or six months in jail for women who immodestly visited the Western Wall” for example.

As inspiring as this resistance has been, it has also been impossible not to see the divisions.  The participation of Palestinians, a significant minority of the Israeli population, has been minimal, because protestors have been unwilling to see their issues as part of the fight for democracy.  Some of the fracturing of the protest movement seems to be over these divisions and the inability to reconcile values with religious and traditionally chauvinistic politics.

As an organizer, it’s sad and troubling to see divisions thwarting the prospects for huge social change, despite feeling at this distance, ill-informed at fairly assessing all the issues and interests.  I also found it difficult to recently read Sarah Shulman’s Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993, and its vivid depiction of the breakup of the spectacularly successful and militant movement after a short several years as the action wing split off from the technical wing.

It’s so hard to put all of these pieces together, and equally difficult to see how easy it is for them to fall apart.