Galia Golan discussed the domestic political implications in Israel of the Arab Spring revolutions, the Israel Summer Social Justice Protest, and the Palestinian September UN bid for recognition.

On October 14, the Middle East Program hosted a discussion with Golan, former Wilson Center Fellow and Professor, School of Government, Policy and Diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program, moderated the event. 

 Golan began by describing the current socioeconomic situation in Israel. Although, according to Golan, Israel has not suffered a dramatic recession and economic growth is at a stable 3 percent, there has been a large increase in the number of people living below the poverty line and other economic hardship indicators. The middle class has been hit by high prices, taxes and housing costs. In her view, the quality of education and health care has declined as many state services have been privatized. She noted that although Israel was created as a welfare state with a strong emphasis on socialism and collective culture, it now has the second largest income inequality in the world.

In Golan’s view, what characterized the Israeli Summer Social Justice Protest of 2011 was how widespread it was, involving different sectors of society from all over the country. It is for this reason, according to Golan, that protestors did not permit any linkage of the socioeconomic problems to the issues of occupation and settlements out of fear that it would split the protest’s widespread support.

Golan outlined the protest’s implications. In her view, there is a very clear, expressed lack of trust in the government and especially in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Golan also noted an increase in the Labor Party’s popularity. She explained this as largely due to the Party’s new leader, Shelly Yachimovich, who identified herself with the social justice movement in the recent primary elections.

As for September, Golan added that although the government tried to use the Palestinian UN bid for recognition as a threat to divert attention from domestic problems, polling indicates that the majority of people are disinterested in the statehood issue. A survey completed a week before the PLO went to the UN showed that 69 percent of Israelis said that if the UN recognized the PLO, Israel should accept their decision. Another poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute showed that 51 percent of Jews agreed.

Golan then discussed the impact of the Arab Spring on Israel. Despite the government’s cautious reaction, she described an “amazing phenomenon” in how fascinated and excited the Israeli public was by the demonstrations in Egypt. What is crucial, though, according to Golan, is the impact of the Arab Spring on the security community in Israel. Golan discussed how key officials in Mossad and the military have said that it is now imperative and urgent to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.

Golan concluded by describing this statement as a “sign of hope” despite the general disillusionment, disappointment and resignation in Israel following the failure of the Oslo Peace Process and the Second Intifada.

By Mona Moussavi, Middle East Program