Anyone who is part of the social justice community in Israel can sense it. The ground is simmering with a renewed wave of (so far) small protests and popular discussions in the social media around mainly two stories, that are connected to one another. The first has to do with the prospect of Bank Leumi forgiving a major debt owed by Nochi Dankner, one of Israel’s tycoons private company. The size of the ‘haircut’ is estimated at somewhere between 100-200 NIS.
The second story has to do with Yair Lapid’s proposed budget cuts in welfare and rise in VAT over fruits and vegetables and taxation of Provident Funds, which are considered as a form of a savings plan for the middle-class as it enjoys tax benefits and is exempt from capital gains.
The two stories angered many people, who feel that once more, the government and the banks are trying to deceive them.
Yair Lapid ran to the Knesset with the slogan “where’s the money?”, taken from one of his columns and referring to billions of shekels which go to corrupt government bureaucracy, welfare support for Haredim, and tycoons who play with our pension funds. He once even went so far as to say that some of the money is in some “isolated settlements” that resemble villages in Switzerland.
Peace Now movement seized this opportunity, in an attempt to create a connection in the public’s mind between government deficit and West Bank spending on Jewish settlements, which went up 38% in 2012. In a video which came out earlier today, they urge Lapid to start his proposed budget cuts with the settlements.
But if Peace Now wants to be successful, they should consider changing their strategy. Focusing only on settlements will surely alienate the mainstream population which identifies itself with the social justice community and supported the 2011 social protest. This is the reason why the 2011 protest made sure to stay away from divisive issues, for better and for worse. Almost two years passed since that summer, and it has now become clear that the popular call for social justice can no longer ignore the Palestinian issue.
The question is what would be the wisest way to link the call for social justice with the call for a political arrangement with the Palestinians. Instead of presenting a predictable, single-minded view on the complex budgetary choices Lapid faces, Peace Now should instead ride the “Where’s the Money?” popular wave and list settlements as one of the items that Lapid should consider cutting before he cuts on welfare, Provident Funds and higher education.
In order to succeed, Peace Now should insert Lapid’s own language about “isolated settlements resembling Switzerland” into the current wave of social awakening – and not necessarily under the Peace Now banner. Otherwise, its agenda will likely only remain shared by the shrinking peace camp in Israel.