Over 60 activists, supporters and members of Daam—Jews, Arabs, and representatives from the occupied territories—participated in the 3rd annual Daam ideological seminar, which took place at St. Gabriel Hotel in Nazareth on the 5th and 6th of July. The military coup that took place at the same time in Egypt demonstrated the relevance of the seminar topic, as well as the gravity with which Daam regards the revolutions in the Arab world. In a region where the only voice that was heard belonged to military and police-backed dictatorships on the one hand, and political Islam on the other, there has been a new voice in the past two years—the voice of the people. This voice has joined others from outside the Arab world—Spain, Israel, US, Greece, Turkey and Brazil, all sharing a yearning for a new economic and civil order, as coined by Daam in its campaign slogan: Equal justice for all.
The seminar reflected the political, social and economic processes that are confronting the existing order. These processes are at times very exciting and at other times horrifically cruel, but the genie of aspiration for justice cannot be returned to the bottle. This is why we are obligated to examine these revolutions and study their successes and mistakes, in order to promote agendas and programs that fulfill their potential.
In his opening remarks, Daam General Secretary Yaacov Ben Efrat said, “Egypt has been a source of inspiration for Daam, as well as a source for learning and understanding the ways in which to conduct social protest and offer a political alternative. From Egypt’s revolution we have learned that from the city square it is possible to pose demands, argue and protest, but not to run a state. One must work hard for revolution. The notion that politicians (or in Egypt’s case, the army) will work for us, and all we need do is to hand them our list of demands on the street or on Facebook, is misguided.
“Real democracy has a price. In Egypt it was necessary to allow the Muslim Brothers to exhaust their political power, when on the one hand they adopted a neoliberal economy and on the other preached Islam as the solution. A political parliamentary alternative should have been created to beat them at the ballot box. The coup that brought down the Muslim Brotherhood has set back the democratic process. How can the liberal and leftist powers speak in the name of democracy when it has been used so selectively?”
In another discussion, co-led by Assaf Adiv, National Coordinator of WAC-MAAN, and writer Oudeh Basharat, a member of Hadash, the crisis in Egypt was compared to the revolution in Tunisia, where civil and religious powers are currently attempting to divide control over the country. Where Egypt is concerned, Basharat was in favor of military intervention in cooperation with the liberal forces for three main reasons: (1) the Muslim Brotherhood tried to use democracy only in order to annul it when the time was right; (2) the Egyptian army is a popular army and cannot be compared to other armies (the remark was made before the Egyptian military’s massacre of protesters); (3) knowing the organizational weakness of the liberal forces, it does not make sense to wait until they accumulate enough political power to defeat the Brotherhood.
Dr. (MD) Ali Abu Awad arrived at the seminar as part of a delegation from the Golan Heights to discuss the Syrian question. Abu Awad identifies with the National Syrian Council, the official Syrian opposition calling for the immediate ousting of Assad. A couple of days before the seminar his car was blown up near his house, an attack from which he and his family emerged unharmed. According to Abu Awad, this is not the first case of violence against Assad opponents in the Golan. He described with great pain the complete devastation of Syria, with 100,000 civilians dead, 200,000 injured, 2 million refugees fleeing the country and many more displaced within Syria. Abu Awad expressed lack of faith in US Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative as a political solution. He also claimed that Israel is interested in the continuation of Assad’s regime, referring to the permission Israel gave Syrian tanks to go through the Quneitra pass to continue the slaughter of civilians.
Two discussions were dedicated to questions of nationality and class from the perspective of the protests in Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Dani Ben Simchon, a WAC activist, addressed the contradictory situation of poor workers in Israel and the fear of the protest movements to deal with this contradiction:
“The Mizrahi worker class is in a state of inner contradiction. On the one hand, it has built its identity on turning away from its Arab heritage and adopting Israeli patriotism. On the other hand, its traditional party, the Likud, has abandoned its social values, leading a neoliberal economic agenda. They are in deep crisis, facing a dead end.
“The Jewish workers have not yet changed their voting patterns and have not internalized the fact that voting for Netanyahu (or any other right wing party) does not result only in strengthening a political right-wing agenda, but also in the reinforcement of a right-leaning economic policy, which in turn harms them as workers.”
“Our acquaintance with the forces active today on the ground—the Ma’abara, Lo Nechmadim, Daphni Leef—shows us that they share a common position: (1) that the political-national questions are to be separated from the social-economic questions, and (2) that they oppose partisan involvement. Despite the fact that these activists are leading important struggles, they continue to ignore the political and class-related aspects of the conflict.
“But the political question has become critical and significant today. In the new conditions, the Jewish worker cannot enjoy social justice without dealing with the class-based aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She must confront the connection between social justice, ending the occupation, and ending the discrimination against Arab citizens within Israel.”
Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka compared the approaches of the various Arab parties with that of Daam: “Whereas the nationalistic and Islamic parties see Israel and Arab society as unchanging entities, to which the rules of history do not pertain, Daam claims that the nationalistic Zionist ideology comes with an economic basis, and as such it follows the same social and historical rules that affect other societies. The occupation is yet another burden that deepens the inner contradictions. Israel has two problems: a political-security problem on one hand, and a social-economic one on the other. One cannot view Israel only through the prism of Zionist ideology.”
Dr. Iris Meir, a lecturer at Sapir college, and Nir Nader, an activist at WAC and Daam, dedicated their lectures to the neoliberal realities in Israel and the US. Meir started her lecture with a quote from Democracy in America (1835) by Alexis de Tocqueville, who defined the unique characteristic of American democracy as “equality in social conditions.” Meir then questioned this statement, referring to Hedrick Smith’s present-day book, Who Stole the American Dream? Relying on Smith, Meir surveyed the monstrous social gaps in American society today and the connections between capital and government, which perpetuate these gaps and make social mobility nearly impossible:
“America has seen the rise of a new class—the new poor. These are members of the middle-class who have sunk into poverty, millions of people who have become victims of the long freeze in living conditions since the 1970s. Their numbers are huge. Apart from 6 million people who are perennially unemployed, it was reported in 2010 that 2.6 million more Americans had fallen into poverty. Altogether there are 46.2 million Americans in poverty, the highest number in 52 years.”
“The figures show that America is becoming a caste society. Increasingly, the privileged classes are maintaining their privileges, while the poor remain in the same place. The social mobility that characterized the American dream is long gone. America is classified nowadays as a country with low social mobility. Being born into a low socio-economic class is more of a limitation in America than in any other country.”
Meir also criticizes Smith’s approach: “His call to demand the government to stop working for capital and start working for the people is, in my view, a liberal approach that requires the current system to continue, while asking to implement certain changes to make it function in way that seems more just. In Israel too we have witnessed this kind of approach, which dissolved the 2011 protests and turned them into dust in terms of their political impact.”
“One cannot expect those who serve capital to start serving the working person. In order for work, rather than capital, to have power and representation, these must be built. The protests on the street have to be translated into real, effective, political-party power. This holds for Israel as it does for the US. The Israel of 2013—Bibi’s, Bennet’s and Lapid’s Israel—is almost a carbon copy of the situation I have been describing. The breaking of organized labor, the eroding of the middle-class, employment insecurity, rising poverty—all this in favor of the big capital that has been buying up the country and its politics.”
The seminar concluded with lectures by Michal Schwartz, Women’s Work Coordinator in WAC, and Orna Akkad, playwright and author. Schwartz described the unfortunate state of Arab women in Israel today.
“The majority of Arab women in Israel live in a rigid, conservative patriarchal system, whose grip on the women has increased in recent years, despite a rise in the level of education and and the decrease in birth rates. The influence of the family is more prevalent among uneducated women who live in the villages, women with a large number of children, but the major group is the most significant one.
“There is no doubt that in terms of living standards and legal rights, the situation of Arab women in Israel is better than that of their Egyptian counterparts. But in terms of activism and leading social and political change, the women in Israel are far behind. In Egypt and Tunisia, women’s participation in the popular struggles has brought them to the front stage of history.”
In contrast with the Arab woman in Israel who is not part of the social struggles, Orna Akkad characterized the Egyptian women as highly active in the ousting of Mubarak. Nevertheless, the situation in Egypt is far from perfect: “For eighteen days, until the fall of Mubarak’s regime, the protesters of Tahrir square, men and women, were united, without attention to differences of gender, religion etc. All came out in solidarity, and with one goal—the overthrowing of Mubarak’s regime and changing the status quo. However, a few weeks after Mubarak’s fall, women protesters that stayed in the square became a target for sexual harassment by men, as well as violence and rape, especially by the military. Many of those women are now active in organizations protecting women from harassment. They do not plan to give up and return to their homes. The revolution allowed them to go on the street and they are not going to let the men take that away from them.”
Translated to English by: Itamar Manoff