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ECPR 50th Anniversary Fund

The Political Economy of the 2011 Protest in Israel: A Class-generational Analysis

Zeev Rosenhek
Open University of Israel
Zeev Rosenhek
Open University of Israel
Michael Shalev
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

The literature on new social movements argues that contemporary protest movements embody a postmaterialist shift, hence the propensity to protest rests on subscribing to particular values rather than on distributive grievances. Correspondingly, protests are primarily the tool of those advantaged by education and other resources. The recent wave of protest in Western countries, however, challenges this reading. While educated, post-materialist young people have clearly been the major players in these protests, their demands are squarely redistributive.
We study the Israeli case as a research site to examine interactions between distributive grievances and socio-political blockages as sources of the current wave of protest. The analysis of grievances focuses on the intersection between class and generational dynamics and their connection to the transformation of Israel’s political economy. Towards the end of the decade which preceded the protests, perceptions of material conditions and prospects of young Israelis with middle-class backgrounds worsened in comparison with other groups. While rising living standards marked their formative experiences, as young adults many encountered declining opportunities in labor and housing markets to maintain the lifestyles experienced in their parents’ households. At the same time, alienation from institutionalized politics, fed by a clash of collective identities with the currently dominant political forces in Israel, created both actual and perceived blockages to influencing policy through “conventional” means among the educated middle class young people who led the protests.
Our conclusion is that discontent fed by declining life chances, coupled with long-standing conflicts around the distribution of socio-political power and prestige, politicized distributive issues and fed demands for a more activist economic role for the state. Theoretically, we suggest that rather than treating materialism/postmaterialism as a dichotomy offering alternative explanations of protest movements, the current challenge is to conceptualize and empirically examine interactions between economic conditions, political power and socio-political identities.
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