Saturday, August 22, 2020

Raising The Black Flag against Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel

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President Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel | Source: Government Press Office, Israel

The past few months have seen an unprecedented uprising against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, owing to rapidly rising unemployment rates and mismanagement of the COVID-19 crisis. Protestors have been gathering at Netanyahu’s residences and demanding that he resign.

Many claim that while the government was initially able to control the spread of the coronavirus, it was too quick to reopen the economy, which led to a more devastating second wave of cases and ended up only hurting small businesses and employment even more. The crashing down of the economy and public healthcare system is touted as evidence of a selfish government which is too distant from the interests of its citizens.

Additionally, Netanyahu is facing trial for charges of corruption. Though the charges first began to surface back in 2016, the indictment came last November. On top of that, it is being alleged that Netanyahu is trying to leverage the pandemic to delay court hearings. In light of the corruption charges, calling Netanyahu “Crime Minister” has emerged as a popular slogan at the protests.

Anti-Government protest in Israel | Source: Middle East Monitor

The protests seem to be mostly organised and led by Israeli leftists, who hold up black flags representing their anti-Netanyahu, anti-corruption and pro-democracy stance. Some protestors have also taken to dressing up in space-themed costumes, in response to a comment by Netanyahu’s son calling the protestor’s “aliens.”

The biggests protests are those held regularly outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem and his private home in the high-profile neighbourhood of Caesarea. The police presence at the protests has been heavy; clashes and arrests are common. Small international protests in support of the ones in Israel have been organised in the United States and Britain.

The protests usually bring a mixed crowd of those protesting corruption charges and business In terms of demographics, some have noted that religious Israelis and Israeli Arabs have been a minority presence in the protests, perhaps the former due to political leanings and the latter due to marginalisation and disenfranchisement. At the same time, the protests are being admired for bringing together citizens across political lines, religious beliefs, and ages, as well as the sight of many families attending protests together.

Protests against Netanyahu 2020 Jerusalem | Source: Nir Hirshman Communication via Wikimedia

The supposed political leanings of the majority of the protestors is the key argument Netanyahu has given while dismissing them, calling them “anarchists,” while also reportedly accusing local media of giving them more coverage than they deserve. He has also denied the allegations of corruption levelled against him.

There have been many reports of counter-protests by right-wing groups, often alongside the anti-Netanyahu ones. Supporters of Netanyahu, attempted to ram a car into a protest, called protestors “germs”,  pepper sprayed and attacked them with bottles and clubs. For now, the courts seem to be protecting the Israelis’ rights to freedom of speech and to protest from appeals to curtail the protests in any manner.

There is speculation regarding whether resignation is the “right” demand, since it seems unlikely that someone like Netanyahu will ever follow through on that. But the people of Israel are out in the streets in the thousands. They are called aliens or anarchists all day but denial is a facade that can only last for so long.

Benny Gantz leader of Blue and White Party | Source: Reuven Kapuchinsky via Wikimedia

Netanyahu is now the longest serving prime minister of Israel. He started the new term when his right-wing Likud party signed a coalition deal with Benny Gantz led Blue and White Party which provisioned 18 month long terms for both of them. Gantz’s term is to begin from November 2021 and some analysts predict that Netanyahu might hold early elections to deny prime ministership to Gantz and in the process, delay Israel’s next budget.

The biggest ally of Netanyahu so far in his political career was his luck which finally seems to desert him. He might be thinking that the protests can be waited out and accountability can be avoided. However this time, his political instinct and survival skill may come up short in the face of determined opposition from the common citizens of Israel.

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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