I wanted to bring the words of Shula Keshet, an Israeli Mizrahi activist, and scholar, and her critique of the 2011 Tent Protests \ 2011 Summer Protests \ 2011 Rothchild Protests (the protests following Tahrir Square and preceding Occupy). Our protests, obviously, operated in a very different context, and I wanted to take the time to share it.
It is clear to everyone that the protests of the 2011 summer failed. It was started by middle-class university students who had to pay rent for the first time and found the price outrageous, so they went out to Rothchild boulevard and set up a tent in protest. Many joined them, filling the central Tel-Aviv boulevard. There were many protests with thousands of people from across the country in attendance. Yet no real change in policy came out of it. Shula Keshet says that the reason the protests failed was that the initiators of the protest were more concerned with preserving the white hegemony than with amplifying the voices of those most affected by social policies in Israel (the working class, Mizrahi and Ethiopian Jews, and, obviously, Palestinians living within the borders of Israel – not to mention Palestinians living in Gaza or the West Bank). Here is a translated excerpt from an interview with her:
“A group of seven Ashkenazim, who I nickname ‘Rothchild Protest’ directed this protest with their eyes closed. They did not see other groups, they operated as a white hegemony. We demanded they give us room on stage, so that we too can dictate the agenda, but they refused. Like any hegemony, they also wanted to keep the power in their hands. They were not willing to talk about the Mizrahi oppression and the occupation, so what do we have left? Only the prices of apartments in Rothchild. That’s why the protest failed.”
Reporter: but the protest was against the cost of living and housing. And that harms every Israeli citizen, from all ethnicities.
“That’s the thing, it doesn’t. What cost of living are they talking about? The Mizrahi communities are not living, they are surviving. Their situation is much more critical, they live with ongoing oppression – not the kind of oppression where you don’t have 10,000 shekels to pay rent in Tel Aviv.”
Reporter: at the end of the day, the protest failed. Wouldn’t it have been wise to join the protest and be a significant power against the government?
“… for the struggle to succeed it must belong to all of us. But we, the Mizrahi activists, were guests in their protest. They saw themselves as the leaders, and they were very patronizing – it doesn’t work like that. Collaboration is not a hegemony or the requirement that we do as they say. They simply wanted to be center stage.I wanted to post this since it is very indicative of the Israeli left. Within a country that occupies, and that was founded by Ashkenazi Jews by oppressing Mizrahi Jews, too often the left chooses to ignore the nuances of religion, ethnicity, and class.
They saw themselves as the continuation of the white Jewish leadership, some of them came from the white Jewish elite that got most of the cake and left others with crumbs, and they didn’t know the poverty of communities of color, turning out to be much more conservative than the institution. The protest was a microcosm of life in Israel – the Ashkenazi folks pushed aside the Mizrahim, Ethiopians, the Palestinians. The protest was part of the oppression, and that’s why it failed. It’s a shame they didn’t understand that our oppression of over 60 years eventually sipped through to them as well.”
I wanted to post this since I think it’s super important to remember how spaces that claim to advocate for social change can continue to perpetuate the ideologies of the system they are fighting against (i.e. White Feminism). Also, this specifically is very indicative of the Israeli left. Within a country that occupies, and that was founded by Ashkenazi Jews by oppressing Mizrahi Jews, too often the left chooses to ignore the nuances of religion, ethnicity, and class. Lastly, following a semester of looking into solidarity, I think this excerpt is important to examine in understanding how protests that are part of the hegemony simply stifle solidarity.