Finally, Signs of Life from the Israeli Left: Are these the birth pangs of a New Middle East? Update 1, 2…

Posted on January 16, 2011

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They may not mind wide-spread decimation of Gaza, but don’t tread on them. The Guardian today reports that a huge demonstration of “left” groups gathered today in Tel Aviv to oppose Netanyahu’s proposed investigation of so-called leftist groups within Israel proper.

The organisers of the march and rally hoped it would signal the beginning of the revival of Israel’s left and a fightback against the dominance of the right. Around 20,000 people attended the rally according to the organisers; the police said there were 10,000 present.

The galvanising issue was the recent approval by the Knesset of a bill to set up a parliamentary investigation into the funding of civil and human rights groups. It has been seen by opponents across the political spectrum as a fundamental attack on democracy and reminiscent of a McCarthyite witch-hunt.

Following the vote, the opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, said an evil wind was blowing across Israel. Some in the crowd on Saturday evening held placards saying “Investigate me too”.

Ok, the involvement of Livni does give me pause. But the numbers–10 to 20,000–are pretty amazing. With the fall (for the time being) of the corrupt Tunisian government, and protests spreading (for the moment) throughout the Arab World, could this all be signs of  “birth pangs of a new Middle East”, pangs not based on slavish devotion to US foreign policy, kleptocracy and empty Arab Nationalist jingoism? Could this apparent revolution–let’s call it the Clear Revolution, just for today–be spreading? And could it house the seeds of a final settling of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and a final denial of US hegemony in the Middle East? A revolution that spreads from North Africa to Israel, toppling hegemonic and client governments alike?

I know I’m being incredibly optimistic. I wasn’t that excited when the Berlin Wall fell, simply because it was clear that it was a hegemonic shuffle, not a real emergence of democracy (although, its cool that it happened, anyway). But I’m beginning to understand the optimism that people felt then. I hope it’s warranted.

Update 1: Sunday evening come-down. Its still unclear what’s going to happen to the steam from the popular spontaneous uprising that toppled the Presidency of Ben Ali in Tunisia, as the situation breaks down into sadly predictable chaos. Violence seems to be the key theme today, largely from parties loyal to the ex President. But Arabnews has a disturbing report of armed foreign nationals being intercepted in the state:

Police and vigilantes stopped vehicles as the city remained under a state of emergency. More than 50 people were arrested by police on suspicion of using ambulances, rental cars and government vehicles for random shootings. Among them were four German nationals who were found carrying weapons in taxis. The drivers of the three taxis transporting the people arrested told police their clients were going hunting. Unconfirmed reports earlier said two Swedish nationals were arrested with “hunting rifles.”

Still, this is a pretty historic moment, and one that has the capacity for a emboldening narrative for the people of the Arab world.

On another note, Brian Whitaker at Al Bab, notes that earlier in December, a spontaneous riot broke out in Saudi Arabia, drawing no international media attention.  Similarly, the media was disinterested in the Tunisian riots in Sidi Bouzid. Mental note: start paying attention to riots in the Middle East.

Everything seemed so much more positive this morning.

Update 2:

Its not exactly clear who the German nationals mentioned above are, but it  turns out that the Swedes are hunters just as they claimed. What an absurd moment to pick to be boar hunting, and traveling with rifles in the middle of a sudden outbreak of running gun battles in another country!

Asharq alawsat reports that a plot led by loyalists to Ben Ali against the provisional government has been broken up by unnamed security forces loyal to the government.

The National opines that members of Ben Ali’s security apparatus may be behind some of the more serious looting, violence and vandalism, in an attempt to sow chaos around the transitional government…this may be related to the above mentioned plot…

 

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