David E. Miller
"Tahrir Square - Not Only in Cairo," read a protester's sign during a recent housing demonstration in downtown Jerusalem.
Many Israeli demonstrators have equated their protest to that of the Arab Spring; a message now resonating in Arab media, which are rushing to take credit for inspiring Israel's emerging protest movement.
"The 'Israeli Spring' haunts Netanyahu," read a headline in the leading Arab daily Al-Hayat on Monday. "The great similarity between the developing Israeli crisis and its counterparts in some Arab countries is remarkable."
The report remarked that like some Arab revolutions, the Israeli protest movement began as a Facebook campaign to reduce the price of cheese, but grew to encompass a broad cross-section of society.
Ali Salem, an Egyptian playwright, said he was surprised by the high participation of Israelis in rallies across the country.
"This is good news for Israel, because it indicates that Israel is a part of the Middle East," Salem told The Media Line. "Israelis now identify with the pain of the region, and these demonstrations are the beginning of a newfound sense of responsibility."
The Israeli protest movement reached its pinnacle on Saturday night, with an estimated 150,000 demonstrators in 10 cities across the country.
"Saying 'Egyptians are no better than us,' a volcano of anger erupted in Israel," wrote Ahman Hafiz in Egypt's leading daily Al-Ahram Monday. His article was headlined "Israel rises up like 'Tahrir' and the people want to topple Netanyahu," was a clear allusion to the Egyptian protest slogan calling for the end of the Mubarak regime.
Some Arab media used the Israeli protests to forewarn of Israel's imminent demise. Hizbullah's Al-Manar website highlighted Labor Party MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer's interview with Israel's Y-net news website in which he warned that Israel was facing "its worst state of emergency since 1948."
One Palestinian columnist pointed to the potential far-reaching ramifications of the Israeli protests.
"Israel has exhausted the card of security and existential threat," wrote Hassan Al-Batal in the official Palestinian Authority mouthpiece Al-Ayyam. "This, at the end of the day, is the most important bipartisan protest movement…When it finds a political answer; Israel will change possibly faster and deeper than the changes of the Arab Spring."
But others said that comparing Israeli protests to those taking place in the Arab world was baseless, due to the deep differences in political regimes.
"There's a lot of exaggeration," Samih Hammoudeh, a political scientist at Ramallah's Bir Zeit University told The Media Line. "The Jewish citizen in Israel enjoys a democratic regime, whereas citizens of the Arab world do no enjoy the same rights."
Hammoudeh said the Israeli demonstrations should be compared to those taking place in France or elsewhere in Europe, and not to the Arab world.
"That comparison is simply not true. The Arabs are demanding deep regime change, whereas Israelis are protesting for economic benefits," he said.
Firas Khatib, a columnist with the Lebanese left-wing daily Al-Akhbar, argued that the protests actually refuted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's recent claims that Israel was "the only democracy in the Middle East" because it shows Israelis don't get their civil rights.
"The protests which filled the streets over the last weeks … with signs reading 'the Israeli Spring', have undermined his [Netanyahu's] claims," Khatib wrote.
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