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Protest Planet: How a Neoliberal Shell Game Created an Age of Activism

Posted on Nov 12, 2011
ericwagner (CC-BY)

A protester raises an endorsement of the worldwide Occupy movement at Occupy San Francisco.

By Juan Cole

(Page 2)

Tahrir Square, Zuccotti Park, Rothschild Avenue

The success of the Tunisian revolution in removing the octopus-like Ben Ali plutocracy inspired the dramatic events in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and even Israel that are redrawing the political map of the Middle East. But the 2011 youth protest movement was hardly contained in the Middle East. Estonian-Canadian activist Kalle Lasn and his anti-consumerist colleagues at the Vancouver-based Adbusters Media Foundation were inspired by the success of the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square in deposing dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Their organization specializes in combatting advertising culture through spoofs and pranks.  It was Adbusters magazine that sent out the call on Twitter in the summer of 2011 for a rally at Wall Street on September 17th, with the now-famous hash tag #OccupyWallStreet. A thousand protesters gathered on the designated date, commemorating the 2008 economic meltdown that had thrown millions of Americans out of their jobs and their homes. Some camped out in nearby Zuccotti Park, another unexpected global spark for protest.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has now spread throughout the United States, sometimes in the face of serious acts of repression, as in Oakland, California. It has followed in the spirit of the Arab and European movements in demanding an end to special privileges for the richest 1%, including their ability to more or less buy the U.S. government for purposes of their choosing. What is often forgotten is that the Ben Alis, Mubaraks, and Qaddafis were not simply authoritarian tyrants. They were the 1%, and the guardians of the 1%, in their own societies—and loathed for exactly that.


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Last April, around the time that Lasn began imagining Wall Street protests, progressive activists in Israel started planning their own movement. In July, sales clerk and aspiring filmmaker Daphne Leef found herself unable to cover a sudden rent increase on her Tel Aviv apartment. So she started a protest Facebook page similar to the ones that fueled the Arab Spring and moved into a tent on the posh Rothschild Avenue where she was soon joined by hundreds of other protesting Israelis. Week by week, the demonstrations grew, spreading to cities throughout the country and culminating on September 3rd in a massive rally, the largest in Israel’s history. Some 300,000 protesters came out in Tel Aviv, 50,000 in Jerusalem, and 40,000 in Haifa. Their demands included not just lower housing costs, but a rollback of neoliberal policies, less regressive taxes and more progressive, direct taxation, a halt to the privatization of the economy, and the funding of a system of inexpensive education and child care. 

Many on the left in Israel are also deeply troubled by the political and economic power of right-wing settlers on the West Bank, but most decline to bring the Palestinian issue into the movement’s demands for fear of losing support among the middle class. For the same reason, the way the Israeli movement was inspired by Tahrir Square and the Egyptian revolution has been downplayed, although “Walk like an Egyptian” signs—a reference both to the Cairo demonstrations and the 1986 Bangles hit song—have been spotted on Rothschild Avenue. 

Most of the Israeli activists in the coastal cities know that they are victims of the same neoliberal order that displaces the Palestinians, punishes them, and keeps them stateless. Indeed, the Palestinians, altogether lacking a state but at the complete mercy of various forms of international capital controlled by elites elsewhere, are the ultimate victims of the neoliberal order. But in order to avoid a split in the Israeli protest movement, a quiet agreement was reached to focus on economic discontents and so avoid the divisive issue of the much-despised West Bank settlements.

There has been little reporting in the Western press about a key source of Israeli unease, which was palpable to me when I visited the country in May. Even then, before the local protests had fully hit their stride, Israelis I met were complaining about the rise to power of an Israeli 1%. There are now 16 billionaires in the country, who control $45 billion in assets, and the current crop of 10,153 millionaires is 20% percent larger than it was in the previous fiscal year. In terms of its distribution of wealth, Israel is now among the most unequal of the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Since the late 1980s, the average household income of families in the bottom fifth of the population has been declining at an annual rate of 1.1%. Over the same period, the average household income of families among the richest 20% went up at an annual rate of 2.4%. 

While neoliberalism has produced more unequal societies throughout the world, nowhere else has the income of the poor declined quite so strikingly. The concentration of wealth in a few hands profoundly contradicts the founding principles of Israel’s Labor Zionism, and results from decades of right-wing Likud policies punishing the poor and middle classes and shifting wealth to the top of society.

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By prosefights, November 19, 2011 at 8:31 pm Link to this comment

Fracking mess?

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By prosefights, November 19, 2011 at 6:41 pm Link to this comment

msm bs?

“People understand now that Iran is determined to reach nuclear weapons,” Barak, a former Israeli prime minister, said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” in an interview to be aired tomorrow. “The countdown toward nuclear materials in the hands of terrorists will start, even if it takes half a generation. But more than this, they will use the nuclear umbrella to kind of intimidate neighbors all around the Gulf to sponsor terror.”

Think electricty generation?

Scary stuff?

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By prosefights, November 15, 2011 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment

Scary stuff.

Sunday November 13, 2011 07:29

The US leader was rebuffed when he demanded private guarantees that a strike would not go ahead without White House notification, suggesting that Israel no longer plans to ‘‘seek Washington’s permission’‘, sources said.

Romney said that if “crippling sanctions” and other strategies fail, military action would be on the table because it is “unacceptable” for Iran to become a nuclear power.

Gingrich agreed, saying that if “maximum covert operations” and other strategies failed there would be no other choice. First, though, the United States consider “taking out their scientists,” and “breaking up their systems, all of it covertly, all of it deniable,” Gingrich said.

Field trip.

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By gerard, November 15, 2011 at 6:01 pm Link to this comment

Neoliberalism—neoconservatism—just two examples of making up words to cover up lies. Neither -ism is or was new.  Both were efforts to deceive working people (lower and middle classes) in order to siphon off more public money into private bank accounts. Both are based on capitalism. Both hate the “common peope,” the “masses”, the majorities in every country on earth. Both despise democracy. It is inevitable that such “systems” breed what Cole calls “activism” which could more accurately be called “revolt.”  Naturally. What else is left for people at the bottom of the ladder when a few at the top own everything?
  Meantime, those at the top know what is coming, and instead of acting reasonably, they act unreasonably and employ armies and police forces to “fight off” the “masses” of “underdogs.” (Vocatular tells it all!)
  Recent uprisings are historically unique. The “underdogs” are refusing blood-and-guts civil wars. Something tells them in the depths of their young hearts that there has to be a better way.  They look to nonviolent methods practiced by the Mahatma in India and theoretically explored by sociologists like Gene Sharp.  They see possibilities.  They have imaginations. They are willing to explore alternatives. 
  More power to them!  If the human race has a future, it will be with them, not with the “neocons” and the “military-industrial complexes” and the Wall Street thieves and the perennial prophets of “blood in the streets.”

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By prosefights, November 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment

The most infamous quote, “Israel must be wiped off the map”, is the most glaringly wrong. In his October 2005 speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad never used the word “map” or the term “wiped off”. According to Farsi-language experts like Juan Cole and even right-wing services like MEMRI, what he actually said was “this regime that is occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.”

Imam ghoft een rezhim-e ishghalgar-e qods bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad.

We’re after our stolen #22,036.

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By Solidarity_withthe_Masses, November 14, 2011 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Do not confuse neoliberal with liberal. “Neoliberal” is the official term for
economic/fiscal policies & approaches that we often refer to as “Reaganomics” or
“Trickle-Down Theory.” (This article also explains why I hate that Reagan-lovers
have been “teaching” our children that Ronald Reagan was a hero… he’s only a
hero to the wealthiest in that he convinced the world that
neoliberalism/reaganomics benefits everyone. psh!)

There is nothing liberal about neoliberalism.

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By Inherit The Wind, November 14, 2011 at 4:55 am Link to this comment

Thank you, Prof. Cole for a BRILLIANT article that untangles and clarifies the progressive protest movements around the globe, connecting the Arab Spring, the Indignados, Chile, OWS and amazing, Israel.

I have long argued in this space that Israel is NOT the problem but that the Likud and the power of the Right and religious fanatics, including the settlements, is.  Prof. Cole clarifies this superbly, and, even though they know EVENTUALLY they must, Israel’s movement, for now, is staying away from the mistreatment of the Palestinians.  If they can take back Israel, and return it to the progressive, liberal state it was intended as, then they’ll be able to bring about a just peace with a new Palestinian state.  The Likud’s predatory, deceptive and illegal actions virtually ENSURE another Intifada—and I believe those bastards want EXACTLY that.  Just as Bush used 9/11 to roll out the Patriot Act, they’ll continue to provoke Arab violence and then use it to suppress Israeli dissidence.

Neo-Liberals and Neo-Conservatives are not the same thing, thought it’s sometimes hard to tell. As Neo-Conservatives are NOTHING like true Conservatives (a nearly extinct breed), so Neo-Liberals are nothing like Liberals.  A Neo-Liberal is no more a liberal than a butterfly is butter or a fly.

Interestingly, Prof. Cole also shows how unions HAVE been a key to ALL the movements, but how the now-reactionary Murdoch-type press has suppressed that key information, so the link between Wisconsin and the Arab Spring (and OWS) isn’t made in the press.

Bravo, Juan! Well done!

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By Stilley Periodical, November 13, 2011 at 9:25 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

neoconservative is an ideological position of free markets and deregulation.

neoliberal is a calculated position of capitalists to take power from people and move it to corporations.

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By Marian Griffith, November 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Outside of the USA liberal means something different. They would call the american neocons neoliberals.

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By Fearless, November 13, 2011 at 12:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

By charro, November 13 at 10:20 am

“Neoliberal?? Don’t you mean ‘neoconservative’?”

Neoliberalism and Neoconservatism are often used interchangeably due to their frequent intersecting and convergence as justifications for imperialism.

Neoliberalism, to my understanding, promotes the utmost privatization of capital and resources as means to most efficiently achieving its goal of liberalized free trade. 

Neoconservativism, to my understanding, seems to be a more socially-driven ideology which tends to champion the US’s role in spreading democracy throughout the world, often through resolutely unilateral action and/or assistance.

Neoconservativism seems to be used as a thin veil for neoliberal motives. In my opinion, neither justify aggressive intervention.

Funny how Juan Cole derides neoliberalizism given his wholesale endorsement of NATO’s criminal bombing of Libya to privatize the country’s oil and banking.

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By charro, November 13, 2011 at 10:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Neoliberal?? Don’t you mean “neoconservative”?

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By balkas, November 13, 2011 at 8:31 am Link to this comment

as i have been suggesting for yrs, it is best to chuck away all isms and just ask
for healthcare, free education for all, and the right TO KNOW.
young people [99.9999% of them] on the right, left, center or wherever cld unite
on these issues and never let go of them no matter what the 0001 to 30% of
americans say, do, or think.

for now ignore catholicism, mosheism, islamism, socialism, capitalism,
communism, liberalism, baptism, lutheranism, social ‘science’, scientology,
psychiatry, sociology, political ‘sciences’, monetarism, any ideology whatever,

this ends millennial history/mystory for all time; never ever allow its return or
rerun!  tnx bozhidar balkas vancouver

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