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Middle-Class Occupations

Last fall, a series of articles in outlets ranging from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz to Time and the New Republic examined the exploding Occupy Wall Street movement in light of what the authors recognized as similar phenomena in Israel. The New York-Israel connection seemed obvious, and Haaretzeven ran a piece on “The Israeli ex-settler at the center of Occupy Wall Street,” which described the role of Kobi Skolnick, who grew up on the national-religious settlement of Itamar, just five kilometers southeast of Nablus in the West Bank of Palestine. Once arrested in a right-wing protest against the Oslo Accords, Skolnick was now a tattooed, self-described “man of peace” — and an Occupy Wall Street activist in New York.

Skolnick may have been a nice subject for a human-interest piece, but the serious connections Martin Peretz had in mind were the #J14 housing protests that swept across Israel last summer. At that movement’s height, thousands of people were camped out in tents on Tel Aviv’s swanky Rothschild Boulevard (renamed “If I were a Rothschild”), and smaller encampments peppered green space in nearly every city in Israel. The Saturday night protests in Tel Aviv drew upwards of 300,000 people who made a broad call for “social justice,” with specific demands focusing on skyrocketing housing prices, health care, childcare, and the overall high cost of living.

I am myself weary of the junctures suggested in these articles. The movement’s intellectual and tactical roots in Greece, London, France, and the California student uprisings of the fall of 2009 (which is when the “Occupy California” blogstarted) are obvious to anyone who looks, and they have drawn as well on the energy of the so-called Arab Spring. But while an Israeli genealogy of the U.S. Occupy Movement would be a stretch, there is a particular sort of rhetoric about the middle class that circulated around both the Israeli and the U.S. protests and that can shed light on both of these contexts.

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