FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Mutiny on the Titanic

Here is a story that has never been told before:

When the Titanic was well out into the Atlantic, its crew mutinied.

They demanded higher wages, less cramped quarters, better food. They assembled on the lower decks and refused to budge from there.

A few old hands from the engine room tried to extend the scope of the protest. They claimed that the captain was grossly incompetent, that the officers were nincompoops and that the voyage was bound to end in disaster.

But the leaders of the protest resisted. “Let’s not go beyond our practical demands,” they said. “The course of the ship is none of our business. Whatever some of us may think about the captain and the officers on the bridge, we must not mix matters. That would only split the protest.”

The passengers did not interfere. Many of them sympathized with the protest, but did not want to get involved.

It is said that one drunken English lady was standing on deck, a glass of whisky in her hand, when she saw the huge iceberg looming. “I asked for some ice,” she murmured, “but this is ridiculous!”

* * *

FOR A WEEK, or so, all the Israeli media were riveted to the goings on at the UN.

Ehud Barak had warned of a “tsunami”. Avigdor Lieberman foresaw a “bloodbath”.  The army was prepared for huge demonstrations that were certain to end in unprecedented violence. No one could think of anything else.

And then, overnight, the bloody tsunami faded like a mirage, and the social protest reappeared. State of war Out, welfare state In.

Why? The commission appointed by Binyamin Netanyahu to examine the roots of the protest and propose reforms had finished its work in record time and laid a thick volume of proposals on the table. All very good ones. Free education from the age of 3, higher taxes for the very rich, more money for housing, and so on.

All very nice, but far short of what the protesters had demanded. The almost half a million demonstrators some weeks ago did not go out into the streets for that. Economics professors attacked, other economics professors defended. A lively debate ensued.

This can go on for a few days. But then something is bound to happen – perhaps a border incident, or a settlers’ pogrom against a Palestinian village, or a pro-Palestinian resolution at the UN – and the whole media pack will veer around, forget about the reforms and return to the good old scares.

In the meantime, the military budget will serve as a bone of contention. The government commission has proposed reducing this budget by 3 billion shekels – less than a billion dollars – in order to finance its modest reforms. Netanyahu has voiced agreement.

No one took this very seriously. The slightest incident will enable the army to demand a special budget, and instead of the suggested tiny reduction, there will be another big increase.

But the army has already raised hell – quite literally – describing the disasters that will surely befall us if the diabolical reduction is not choked in its cradle. We face defeat in the next war, many soldiers will be killed, the future investigation committee will blame the present ministers. They are already shaking in their shoes.

* * *

ALL THIS goes to show how quickly national attention can swing from “protest mode” to “security mode”. One day we are shaking our fists in the street, the next we are manning the national ramparts, resolved to sell our lives dearly.

This could lead to the idea that the two problems are really one, and can only be solved together. But this conclusion meets with resolute resistance.

The young leaders of the protest insist that the demand for reform unites all Israelis – male and female, young and old, leftist and rightist, religious and secular, Jew and Arab, Ashkenazi and Oriental. Therein lies its power. The moment the question of national policy comes up, the movement will break apart. End of protest.

Difficult to argue with that.

True, even so the rightists accuse the protesters of being leftists in disguise. Very few national-religious people appear at the demonstrations, and no orthodox at all. Oriental Jews, traditional voters for the Likud, are underrepresented, though not altogether absent. People speak of a movement of the “White Tribe” – Jews of European descent.

Still, the movement has succeeded in avoiding an open split. The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have not been called upon to identify themselves with any particular political party or creed. The leaders can rightly claim that their tactic – if it is a tactic – has worked up to now.

* * *

THIS CONVICTION has been reinforced by recent events in the Labor Party.

This moribund congregation, down in the polls to a mere 7% of the votes, has suddenly sprung to new life. A lively primary election for the party leadership has restored some color to its cheeks. In a surprise victory, Shelly Yacimovich has been elected party chairwoman.

Shelly (I dislike these  long foreign surnames) was in the past an assertive, abrasive radio journalist with very pronounced feminist and social-democratic views. Six years ago she joined Labor and was elected to the Knesset under the wing of Amir Peretz, the then leader, who she has now soundly beaten.

In the Knesset, Shelly has distinguished herself as a diligent and relentless militant on social issues. She is a girlish-looking 51, a lone she-wolf, disliked by her colleagues, devoid of charisma, not at all the hail-fellow-well-met type. Yet the party rank and file, perhaps out of sheer desperation, preferred her to the members of the bankrupt old guard. The atmosphere in the country produced by the social protest movement certainly contributed to her success.

In all her years in the Knesset, she has not mentioned any of the national problems – war and peace, occupation, settlements. She has concentrated exclusively on social issues. On the eve of the primary, she shocked many members of her party by publicly embracing the settlers. “The settlements are no sins or crimes,” she asserted, they were put there by Labor Party governments and are a part of the national consensus.

Shelly may really believe this or she may consider it good tactics – the fact is that she has adopted the same line as the protest movement: that social affairs should be separated from “national” affairs. Seems you can be rightist on the occupation and leftist on taxing the rich.

* * *

BUT CAN YOU?

On the morrow of the Labor primaries, something amazing happened. In a respected opinion poll, Labor rose from 8 to 22 Knesset seats, overtaking Tzipi Livni’s Kadima, which sank from 28 to 18.

A revolution? Not quite. All the new Labor votes came from Kadima. But a move from Kadima to Labor, while interesting in itself”, is not important. The Knesset is divided into two blocs – the nationalist-religious and the center-left-Arab. As long as the rightist bloc has a 5% edge, there will be no change. To effect change, enough voters must jump from one side of the scales to the other.

Shelly believes that by shunning national issues and concentrating on social matters, voters can be moved to make the jump. Some say: that’s all that counts. What’s the use of putting forward a program of peace, if you can’t change the government? Let’s first come to power, by whatever means, and than see to peace.

Against this logical argument, there is the contrary contention: that if you start to embrace the settlers and ignore the occupation, you will end up as a minor partner in a right-wing government, as has happened before. Ask Shimon Peres. Ask Ehud Barak.

And then there is the moral question: can you really chant “the People Demand Social Justice” and ignore the daily oppression of four million Palestinians in the occupied territories? When you abandon your principles on the way to power, what are you likely to do with that power?

* * *

THE JEWISH High Holidays, which started the day before yesterday, provide a pause for reflection. Politics are at a standstill. The protest leaders promise another huge demonstration, restricted to the social demands, in a month’s time.

In the meantime, the Titanic, this beautiful masterpiece of naval architecture, is riding the waves.

Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

More articles by:

URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 23, 2019
Peter Belmont
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
Kerron Ó Luain
What the “White Irish Slaves” Meme Tells Us About Identity Politics
Andy Piascik
Grocery Store Workers Take on Billion Dollar Multinational
Seiji Yamada – Gregory G. Maskarinec
Health as a Human Right: No Migrants Need Apply
Howard Lisnoff
Loose Bullets and Loose Cannons
Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Dreaming in Miami
Graham Peebles
Consuming Stuff: The Polluting World of Fashion
Robert Dodge
Earth Day: Our Planet in Peril
Weekend Edition
April 19, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What Will It Take For Trump to Get His Due?
Roy Eidelson
Is the American Psychological Association Addicted to Militarism and War?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Time is Blind, Man is Stupid
Joshua Frank
Top 20 Mueller Report “Findings”
Rob Urie
Why Russiagate Will Never Go Away
Paul Street
Stephen Moore Gets Something Right: It’s Capitalism vs. Democracy
Russell Mokhiber
Why Boeing and Its Executives Should be Prosecuted for Manslaughter
T.J. Coles
The Battle for Latin America: How the U.S. Helped Destroy the “Pink Tide”
Ron Jacobs
Ho Chi Minh City: Nguyen Thai Binh Street
Dean Baker
Fun Fictions in Economics
David Rosen
Trump’s One-Dimensional Gender Identity
Kenn Orphan
Notre Dame: We Have Always Belonged to Her
Robert Hunziker
The Blue Ocean Event and Collapsing Ecosystems
Theodore C. Van Alst, Jr.
Paddy Wagon
Brett Wilkins
Jimmy Carter: US ‘Most Warlike Nation in History of the World’
John W. Whitehead
From Jesus Christ to Julian Assange: When Dissidents Become Enemies of the State
Nick Pemberton
To Never Forget or Never Remember
Stephen Cooper
My Unforgettable College Stabbings
Louis Proyect
A Leftist Rejoinder to the “Capitalist Miracle”
Louisa Willcox
Aldo Leopold’s Land Ethic and the Need for a New Approach to Managing Wildlife
Brian Cloughley
Britain Shakes a Futile Fist and Germany Behaves Sensibly
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail