Protests for Democracy in Israel: Questions and Answers

MAAN Workers Association has joined the protest movement for democracy and is collaborating with numerous organizations to bolster the ongoing protest and work towards the replacement of this perilous government. The significant presence of our Arab activists within MAAN’s contingent adds a distinctive dimension to the struggle. MAAN regards the protest movement as a pivotal force in the battle for democracy and equality. In order to clarify our motivations for participating and to address questions directed towards us, we have compiled a series of answers below. We welcome feedback from our readers.

Why do you support the protest movement?

We support the protest movement because we perceive the extreme right-wing government led by Netanyahu, Smotrich, and Ben Gvir as a threat to democracy, human rights, and workers‘ rights. The uprising of a substantial portion of the Israeli public against this government, which exhibits clear fascist characteristics, is of utmost importance. We align with the protest leaders‘ who define the battle as a struggle between democracy and dictatorship. This is a momentous fight. We view this struggle as a component of the global resistance against the populist right, such as Trump in the USA, Orbán in Hungary, the Justice Party in Poland, and similar movements. If the government gets the upper hand it would render it impossible for MAAN to continue its work as an organization dedicated to protect workers in general, including Palestinian workers. We are fighting not only for democracy and freedom for all, but also for our own right to exist.

What are the slogans and ideas that MAAN raises?

Our primary slogan in the protest is „without democracy, there are no workers‘ rights.“ This is a slogan that goes in tandem with the message of various groups participating in the protest. They link between inherent freedoms and rights that may be lost, for example: slogans like „without democracy, there is no health,“ „without democracy, there is no academia,“ and „without democracy, there is no mental health“.  Our slogan, delivered in both Hebrew and Arabic, aims to raise awareness about the risks to workers‘ rights, the right to association, and the right to strike. Our request to join the Coordination Committee of the Protest was accepted very favourably. The presence of Arab activists within MAAN’s bloc on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, along with the chants in both languages, has received a positive resonance among the protesters.

The coup against which the protest was launched focused on the intention to eliminate the independent status of the Supreme Court. How is this related to labor struggles?

Such a coup will have a direct impact on the right of association and the freedom to strike. The right wing Kohelet Forum, which is the think-tank that drafted the government’s new legislation promotes also neoliberal ideas against labor unions, the labor court, and against welfare budgets. The Chairman of the Knesset’s Constitutional Committee, MK Simcha Rothman, published a bill that limits the right of unions to announce a strike. Curtailing the independence of the courts and any government control over the appointment of judges will also affect the judges elected to the labor courts and thus neutralize an important factor that protects workers rights. As part of the protest movement, MAAN is involved in an initiative of representatives of trade unions, Labor lawyers and academics who specialize in labor law to stop this legislation. A public petition signed by 60 senior lawyers and former judges in the field of labor law, including the director of MAAN’s legal department, was published at the end of April and defined the legal coup as a danger to workers and unions that justifies the announcement of a national work dispute and a strike.

How do you see the role of labor organizations in the struggle for democracy?

Workers‘ organizations cannot reduce their role to Bread & Butter issues such as wages and working conditions. A workers‘ organization that does not mobilize its members and activists at this fateful moment is betraying its mission.

At first the Histadrut was criticized for its refusal to join the protest. Its position, however, underwent a change that was reflected in the general strike it announced at the end of March. It is no coincidence that two days after that strike, President Biden announced that Netanyahu is not welcome in Washington until he shelves the legislation and reaches broad agreements with the opposition. It is clear to us that workers‘ rights and organized labor are central issues in American domestic and foreign policy. The Histadrut’s strike, as the largest labor union in Israel was therefore crucial to clarify the severity of the crisis and the danger inherent in the government’s plan.

The protest is focused on calling for democracy. The occupation and the struggle for peace are not on its agenda. As an organization whose banner is the struggle for Palestinian rights, do you live in peace with this choice?

We support the decision of the protest leadership to concentrate at this stage of on the struggle to stop the right wing dictatorial coup. Our assessment is that the urgent and central task today is to bring about the fall of the extreme right-wing government and for this purpose it makes sense to mobilize a broad coalition of forces. One of the prominent protest leaders, Shikama Bressler, defined the political division today between those who support the rule of law and democracy and those who support dictatorship.

The overwhelming majority of the speakers and leaders of the protest are fully aware of the connection between the judicial coup and the drive of messianic settlers to force their agenda on the Israeli and Palestinian society. The protest movement definitely opposes their intention to bring about the annexation of the West Bank, and the establishment of Jewish supremacy over the entire land between the Jordan and the sea. Such a process would transform Israel by international law into a de-jure apartheid state.

Against this background, we note very positively the openness of the protest movement and its ability not only to open its doors to voices raising the Palestinian issue but also its approach that sees diversity as a source of power.

You emphasize the need of the Arab society in Israel to join the protest. why?

The glue that binds the various elements of Netanyahu’s dangerous government is the racist attitude towards anyone who is not Jewish, and especially towards the Palestinian residents of Israel and the occupied territories. Palestinians will also be the first to be harmed if the government’s plans come to fruition. Therefore, in the fight against the government there must be a presence and powerful role for organizations & activities from the Palestinian Arab society, which will give an answer to Jewish supremacy ideas of Ben Gvir and Smotrich. Hence the strategic importance in the need for the Arab society to partner with the protest.

It seems that despite your efforts and those of other parties, the participation of Arabs in the protest until now was poor. What do you think is the reason for this and what can be done?

Indeed there is a gap between the democratic movement in the Jewish/Israeli society and the Arab society. On the other hand, the Arab society is in an extremely acute internal crisis. For decades the Arab public has suffered from institutionalized discrimination, exclusion from any influence to the point of defining it as „illegitimate“. There is neglect of infrastructure, a critical lack of residential space, high unemployment of youth and women, resulting in high poverty rates. All these led to widespread corruption and protectionism which in turn became a fertile ground for the growth of criminal organizations. Political trends of nationalist and religious seclusion limited voices advocating for creativity and freedom. The murder of women on the grounds of so-called „family honour“ did not receive a proper internal social response either. Undoubtedly, the ability to mobilize the Arab voice would necessitate the rise of a new leadership that will have the moral courage to stand up against conservative norms that leave society frozen in its tracks.

The promotion of a democratic and secular agenda is the order of the hour. The emergence of a powerful democratic movement in Israel, and the ideological ferment it had created, constitute a new and unprecedented factor that should and can lead to a similar awakening in the Arab society. The massive hoisting of the Israeli flags in the demonstrations undoubtedly deters Palestinians who cannot identify with this flag. But one should take into consideration that these flags are raised more as a message to the right than as a desire to exclude the Arab public.

And yet, at the fateful intersection where all the citizens of the country are, it must be acknowledged that there must also be a deep change that will come along with recognition of the legitimacy of the Arab voice, and an equal partnership in life, employment, rights and government.

How do you manage to recruit activists from the Arab society to participate in the protest?

MAAN works to recruit activists from a wide pool of members and supporters that the organization has built in both communities. MAAN’s field-work in promoting fair employment, cross national workers‘ rights, with an emphasis on Arab women’s employment, encourages Arab members to join us in the demonstrations. True, we also encounter voices expressing mistrust and doubts about the willingness of the protest movement to accept and cooperate with the Arab society, but we certainly also hear voices who call to join the movement, and on the other hand, a thirst of the protesting public to see Arab demonstrators. The experience of marching in a demonstration that has hundreds of thousands of participants and its friendly and welcoming attitude towards Arab speakers and activists who join, show that there is a real possibility to expand the scope of Arab participation, overcoming prejudices, fear and lack of confidence and to work together towards a joint equal and peaceful future.

MANN Workers Association, May 28, 2023

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