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Ben-Gurion University
BGU Lev Grinberg, part 2 "Is there a chance to democratize Israel without ending the occupation?" U California, Berkeley


BGU Professor Lev Luis Grinberg
Email: lev@bgu.ac.il

Editorial Note
Lecture by Lev Grinberg Part II
Grinberg, a political economist and sociologist from Ben Gurion University is known for extremely harsh condemnations of Israel; not only that he denies that Israel is a democracy but also accused Israeli leaders of inflicting "symbolic genocide" on the Palestinians and engaging in "state terrorism."
In part two of his lecture, Grinberg expands on why Israel can not be called a democracy.  For those who may have problems with the rather convoluted style of the lecture, his book Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine  is marginally more lucid. (see IAM review).  In any event, Grinberg's main point is that democracy can only occur in countries with defined borders, because a settled border gives a country a political space. At the same time, he seems to contradict himself when he speaks about the United States as being a "worse case" than Israel.
Grinberg's theory becomes even more outlandish when he discusses how the "cartels" in Israel closed the political space. He explains that the cartels are formed by two tribal identities, of the left and of the right; he then tries to compare the Israeli cartel/tribes to the American ones.  At this point, his discourse becomes virtually incomprehensible. 
It would be easy to assume that Grinberg's poor command of English is behind this muddled piece of reasoning.  But his grasp of democratic theory as evidenced in his book is also substandard.  As already noted, this is not just a refection on Grinberg but also on the lax standards at the faculty of social sciences at Ben Gurion University.  Like some of his peers, his talent does not exceeds beyond Israel bashing.

The Israeli movement for social justice, J-14, was initiated in the quiet summer of 2011, inspired by the Egyptian democratic mobilization in Tahrir Square and the Spanish M-15 movement. Within 52 days, J-14 gained incredible popularity with 85 percent support, according to the polls, and it mobilized a mass demonstration of more than half a million people, with no precedent in Israel. The government recognized its economic policies were inducing inequality and declared new taxation and budget policies aiming to reduce poverty and the social gap. However, the movement never mentioned the military occupation nor the injustices the state caused to the Palestinians.

Is there a chance to democratize Israel without ending the occupation? Is there a chance that the J-14 movement for social justice will embrace justice for Palestinians too? Using the analytical concepts and insights suggested in his book, Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine: Democracy vs. Military Rule, Prof. Lev Luis Grinberg (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel) will analyze the recent political events from a historical perspective.

The lecture was delivered by Grinberg at the University of California, Berkeley, on Nov. 3, 2011

Part 2, transcript by IAM

Something important, September 3, why September 3?   They knew in advance that September is a month that you can not demonstrate for social economic issues.   September was from the beginning, when the Palestinian movement decided to apply to the United Nations to recognize the Palestinian state, it was clear that September would be a month where all the media would be concerned with Palestinians.   So, from the beginning, they said that September 3 would be the one million march!  And when they started in July 14, this would be the…., so it was clear that they were aware of the fact that there are spaces in time to organize these kind and there are spaces that you can not do nothing.


So let’s start.   What I want to do, my questions that I want to try to answer is why they are taking Tahrir as a model?   Is this a democratization process?   Is Israel a democracy or isn’t?   Why are they ignoring injustice suffered by the Palestinians and their non-democratic situation?   If they are claiming justice inside Israel, why are they are not for the Palestinians also?    Is there a chance that the July 14 movement will radically transform the Israeli polity?   In order to answer these questions, I will use the framework of the theory that I developed on Politics and Violence in Israel/Palestine, and also parts of the analysis of what happened in the last twenty years in politics and I decided to use this power point in order to rush, because otherwise if I start talking about the movement, I will not make the point in the more theoretical and macro-historical point that I want to make where we are now and what we can expect of the future.  


So, the concept I use is political space.   Political space is a critical tool to analyze democratic regimes.   The concept is to uncover rules of the game, institutions, discourses, practices, and political actors that close political space to subordinated groups in processes of democratization and in well-established democratic regimes.   This is the idea of this critical concept.   It is not only to assume that democracy is working; sometimes to close the space for subordinated groups.   The political space is symbolic space of recognition and representation of dominated groups, mediation and compromise within different framework of the state.   Political spaces can be opened when there are recognized borders and balance of power relations!   This is a very crucial point.      This is entirely fundamentals of political space.  When there are recognized borders, the borders define who are the people?   When you say we the people, in the context of the United States, it’s very funny, we the people, who are the people then?   You define, but when you have borders also, when you have these borders, physical borders, you can claim that you are equal.   Its not that you are equal, but you can make the point and the claim that moralize.   The balance of power is crucial because every one who can rule without recognizing the other does it.   


So, the dominated group needs some power to balance the power of the dominant.   When dominated groups effectively assist power by inner society mobilization and political articulation, the rulers have no option but to recognize their legitimate claims.  This is a classic process of democratization.   The rulers, in some moment, recognize that they cannot continue repression.   When dominant groups come to rule by violence, they use it.   Violence is the best way to close political spaces.   Settler societies have a problem with democracy because settler societies want democracy for themselves but not for the local populations and not also for Africans they bring.   They want what has been called heritable democracies.   This is the democracy for the civilized peoples.   It    happened in North America, in South Africa, in Australia, and Israel.  But the peculiarity of Israel is it is the only case that still don’t recognize the local population!    I don’t want to demonize Israel.   The case of the United States is much worse because they killed and in this instance, the fact that the Palestinians are still there and present, part of them are present, not all of them: this is something that is also peculiar; but […] the problem is that this conflict is still there. 


The success of Israel is to divide and rule the Palestinians by force but it maintains its democratic image on rules of the game.   This is the peculiarity that still allows the US government to say to the Palestinians negotiate.   They assume that this is a democratic government so you need to negotiate.   According to my analysis, there is no chance that such negotiations can lead any ways, because there is no balance of power and there are no borders.   So what’s created since 67 is what I call a duel regime which is military democratic.   The duel regime is a democracy for the Israeli Jews and a peculiar divide and rule for Palestinian Arabs.    The Palestinian Arabs are divided into mainly three groups but its more.   You have citizens of Israel, the second class citizens of Israel, and the occupied population.   It must be clear that the border of Israel, the so-called border of Israel, the green line, before 67, is a border that exists mainly to separate A from B.   This border does not make any difference for the Israeli Jew.   It makes a difference if you are a Palestinian because if you are second class, you are inside the border, and if you are occupied under the military, this is the West Bank and Gaza.   But for sure, the occupied territories are divided between Gaza, that is a very difficult situation compared to the West Bank, and the better situation for the occupied population is in East Jerusalem.   So, they are also divided.     Therefore, for sure, you have the refugees who are outside.  


The military democratic regime closes the political space to these two.   In my opinion, this is the most important point to understand.   By dividing the workers, you have Palestinian workers without rights and the Israeli workers with rights, and also in periods of violence, when you have violence, no political space for nothing inside Israel too.   How all of this regime must have some legitimacy inside Israel?   It was legitimized by what I call a cartel, of two tribal identities.    Why cartel?   Because there was a monopole until 1977, of the left, the so-called    left, and it became a cartel of right-left when the tribal identities formed to close political space.    What is a tribal identity?   Think about United States too.   You have two groups that hate each other, like a tribe, and mainly they hate the leader of the tribe of the other, the chief.   And there is no space to discuss nothing because everything is mobilized through the identity.   And there is no space, for example, to be in the middle or to be in the left of the left or to be in the right of the right.   You have two tribes that close completely the political space.   I was thinking about the United States.   You cannot have a party on the left of the Democratic Party, but imagine you can, and you can also have the Tea Party have their own representation, it changes every thing.   It opens every thing.   So by this dualism, it’s crucial to close political spaces.   And the cartels succeeded to mobilize, to manipulate, and also to cover all of the conflicts inside Israel.   Class conflicts were there, ethnic conflicts were there, religious-secular conflicts----all of these hostilities became left and right, but they are covered, because you can not discuss none of these issues and you can not represent none of these issues!

  End of Part 2 

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