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Professor discusses Israeli “occupy” protests

Dr. Noah Efron: Bipartisan effort fights for social justice in Israel

February 16, 2012

By Roman Verzub

The movement dubbed “Occupy Wall Street,” stirs up different images in different people’s heads, but what cannot be denied are attempts to identify the movement with other protests around the world.

One such protest movement was the subject of the lecture by Dr. Noah Efron, an American-born Israeli politician and professor at Bar-Ilan, the prestigious university located in the Israeli city of Tel-Aviv. The speaker began with a story of when he stood up in Tel Aviv’s city council and advocated for a new rapid transit system in his city.-

What followed, he said, was a string of insults (common in parliamentary systems all over the world) that attacked him personally. Revealing his profanity-laden thoughts (for which he apologized in advance) it was made clear throughout his talk that Efron has had a love-hate relationship with his adopted country and with the pessimism with which he formerly approached the world.

Efron left the United States and moved to Israel in the 80s, he said, because it “seemed provisional and open to redefinition.”

Having formerly approached much of the world with pessimism, Efron said that what he observed about Israel made him realize that “the payoff of [pessimism] is much less than its cost.”

Efron also described what he called a series of social injustices from the Israeli government – funding for Israel’s government-run health care system, like the government-run health care systems around the world. It has to be rationed. He was denied healthcare to be able to run a marathon, having to wait in line until 2013.

Israel, he said, has more non-governmental organizations per capita than any other country, which he used as a segway into the origins of the protest movement.

According to Efron, the protests started when the now-26-year-old Tel Aviv film editor Daphni Leef was to be evicted from her apartment as a result of rent prices, which she later discovered had doubled in the last five years.

Leef decided to protest and invited her Facebook friends to join her.

What followed, Efron said, would eventually lead to a large social justice protest that has the support of 87% of the Israeli public. It also broke down the traditional divides between religious and secular, right-wing, left-wing, Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel.

“Young protesters,” he said, “refused to demonize the Ultra-Orthodox and refused the presumption of polarization,” Efron said that usually divides the Israeli public into what they call “sectors.”

Support came from all groups of Jews from secular to religious, from left-wing socialists in the Hadash party to the right-wing Likud party, as well as the Ultra-Orthodox and settlers in the disputed West Bank territory.

Among Israel’s Arab minority, which comprises around 20% of the population, religious leaders were not so keen on joining the protest, but secular Arabs on the other hand joined overwhelmingly. All the different groups found, Efron said, that when they spoke openly and honestly that they had much more in common, and that the only major issue on which they disagreed was the fate of the disputed West Bank territory, which Efron referred to as “occupied.”

A question towards the end compared the movement to both Tea Party and Occupy movements in the United States, noted that the former had accomplished some its goals and had elected members of Congress to push its ideas forward, while the latter has yet to accomplish anything of substantial merit or worth.

Efron said that the Israeli movement could run a party in local politics, but would not want them, because of issues of disagreement, to run on the national level.Instead, he suggested that the protest’s messages are represented throughout all of the parties.