More articles by
Yacov Ben Efrat
Riding the wave to the Knesset: The Daam campaign
One might think that these elections are meaningless. The results are ostensibly known in advance, like a repeat broadcast of a soccer match. There’s a feeling of defeatism in the air, and people relate to the rightwing as they might to the weather: one can talk about it, but it can’t be changed. It’s hard to believe that just a year and half ago, summer 2011, citizens occupied the streets, new ideas blossomed, politicians appeared despicable and defeated, and Tel Aviv’s youth burst out of their indifference and made their opinions known, without giving a damn for the opinions of the “adults” who had disappointed them so.
But appearances can be deceptive. Something new has been created in these elections, something vigorous, dynamic, youthful and energetic which bears the spirit of that summer of protest: Daam’s election campaign. This campaign began even then, during the social protests, in the Red Bloc that marched in the mass demonstrations. It was then that all those leading this wonderful campaign for change first met. It was a spontaneous coming together of slogans and people, Jews and Arabs, blue collar workers and white collar workers, who yelled a jumble of slogans in Hebrew and Arabic and thus stood out from the marching masses.
“The people demand social justice” – this slogan connected the protesters in Israel with the millions in Egypt and around the world, because they were sick of the destructive capitalism that had taken over their societies. The enthusiasm of Tel Aviv’s youth stemmed from their understanding that they were making history, that walls of separation were crumbling, that we were joining the rest of the world. The youth of Cairo were similar to the youth of Madrid, and in Tel Aviv the Zionist decree that “the people shall dwell alone” was shattered. Cairo built up faith in change, and Tel Aviv brought back hope.
A year passed, and when Dafni Leef tried to reignite the miracle of revolt, she came up against a well-prepared establishment ready to silence and buy off any murmur of protest. The press was no longer supportive and her comrades in arms looked less like young rebels and more like slick politicians. It seemed that all hope was lost, that the Tel Aviv Spring was no more than a prelude to a cold winter.
But the Red Bloc refused to roll up its flags. Just as in Egypt it was impossible to bring back Mubarak, the youth had come to understand their power, and the idea of dictatorship had been defeated, so too in Tel Aviv: the protest raised new awareness and new paths, and opened the way to a political sphere that had not yet formed into a new social force.
The elections as accelerator
Thus the current run-up to elections is accelerating an unavoidable process. Those who met during that hot revolutionary summer and marched spontaneously together found themselves facing a new challenge: how to express their desires, how to cope with the same corrupt system against which they had rebelled. In this way they discovered the enormous potential of the ideas behind the Red Bloc. Disappointment in the existing parties, both among Jews and Arabs, created a rare opportunity to think towards something new. The nationalist-isolationist slogans in the Arab street were revealed as hollow, unable to lift the Arab population out of its chronic poverty. On the Jewish side, suspicion gave way to association based on a very broad common denominator, expressed in the demand for one justice for all.
Unlike during the protest, this coming together is not taking place in the streets and public squares, but in the virtual space of social networks which also underlay the Arab revolutions and continue to play an important role in the struggle against Assad in Syria. This new sphere enables connections to be made that would have been impossible in the past. The Facebook page of the Daam Workers Party brings Russian, Arabic and Hebrew speakers together and offers a platform upon which Jews and Arabs can communicate. The messages are so clear and simple that they can be passed from language to language with a harmony so sorely lacking in the real world. This is living proof that Jews and Arabs, and workers of all backgrounds, can live and argue together and wage a joint struggle against the common enemy: the regime which abandoned its citizens for the sake of the wealthy.
Daam’s Facebook page has succeeded where the protest movement failed. It has managed to link the center to the periphery, intellectuals to industrial workers, teachers to truckers. Their willingness to associate themselves with Daam is not to be taken for granted. The mutual suspicion which divides Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, Russian speakers and Amharic speakers, has always prevented solidarity. But years of work and education, of joint struggle and the establishment of workers committees, whether successful or defeated, created a basic confidence in Daam and in its members who are active on the ground every day.
From virtual strength to electoral strength
Daam’s great challenge is to transform virtual strength to electoral strength. So far, we have managed to shift the protest onto the virtual plane and turn the party platform into texts, graphics and video clips which expose the party’s positions to thousands. We opened an arena for the exchange of views in various languages, and for lively, democratic political debate. A new force is taking shape and bursting into the public sphere, and the continuous joining of new members shows that this force is meeting a need which was created by the changing reality. The rush towards Daam is not merely a trend, but a movement based on growing social awareness, among both Jews and Arabs. As this campaign grows stronger, the creation of a representative force in the Knesset becomes increasingly feasible.
Daam has walked this path for many years. The ideas have remained the same ideas, but reality has changed and enabled these ideas to flourish. Revolutionary ideas thrive in a revolutionary movement, and such a movement is created when the existing system collapses and social consciousness rejects established norms. The basic view that the state belongs to its citizens cracked when the regime “married” capital and public resources were handed over as the dowry. As socioeconomic disparities gaped, revolutionary consciousness began to awaken. Thus workers come together regardless of nation, language or origin, to take back their right to determine their own fate. In the face of war they demand peace, in the face of racism they demand fraternity, in the face of exploitation they demand the right to earn a living in dignity, and in the face of inequality they demand social justice for all.
There is a sense that we face a historic moment. The atmosphere is electric, and the intensity of the election campaign reflects incessant change. The energies released in the summer of 2011 have doubled in strength, and the objective appears closer than ever. We stuck with the principle, we struggled for it for years and earned the confidence of the workers as we acted together against poverty and daily exploitation. We believe there are many thousands who want to preserve and develop the energies released that summer. In this election campaign, we are motivated by a revolutionary fervor which will bring us into the Knesset. We have set ourselves a target, and our public responsibility compels us to continue until this target is achieved. Because as the fascist right grows stronger, Israel is faced with a stark choice: the choice between change or ruin.
Translated from the Hebrew by Yonatan Preminger