Israelis Sure Won’t Be Taking to the Streets

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The Israeli protester. Israelis will only take to the streets (maybe) if they're  affected personally – if they're laid off, if cops raid their homes, perhaps if the Shin Bet comes knocking.
The Israeli protester. Israelis will only take to the streets (maybe) if they're affected personally – if they're laid off, if cops raid their homes, perhaps if the Shin Bet comes knocking.Credit: Eran Wolkowski

Israel isn’t Prague 1989 or Ukraine 2004. We won’t take to the streets. We haven’t reached the red line where, if the government, crosses it, we’ll say “that’s it, we can’t go on.”

There have always been good reasons to take to the streets: the nation-state law, the law on whether grocery stores can stay open on Shabbat, and laws related to the coronavirus. And now there’s the plan to annex parts of the West Bank. Any one of these is reason enough to protest, and not one is a red line: Maybe it’s insufficiently threatening, it’s not so terrible, we can live with it.

“Taking to the streets” doesn’t mean standing in a city square once a month, staying 2 meters from one another and going home. Taking to the streets means staying there for days or weeks, not to protest but to change things, to ignore bans and risk sitting in jail – nonviolently, but stubbornly. It means interrupting your life for the common good.

We won’t take to the streets because we think everything will work out even without that; we think that if we demonstrate politely, unjust laws will be overturned. What are unjust laws? Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that ... had no part in enacting or devising the law.”

That’s not the situation here. The majority doesn’t have a problem inflicting laws on a minority. We can live with annexation; after all, this month we’re celebrating 53 tranquil years of unlawful annexation.

We don’t take to the streets – not against laws that harm everyone who’s not us, and we certainly won’t take to the streets for the Arab Israelis, the Ethiopian Israelis or people with disabilities. There’s no solidarity. We’ll only take to the streets (maybe) if we’re affected personally – if we’re laid off, if cops raid our homes, perhaps if the Shin Bet security service comes knocking on our door.

We’ll want to protest in that case, but not to bring down the government. We don’t deny its legitimacy. We accept it, but not its twisted laws. We’ll prove to it that we don’t give a damn about it or its laws. We’ll reopen restaurants and won’t wear face masks even though they’re for our benefit. We’ll show the government our contempt for it, but not that we want to bring it down.

We won’t take to the streets because only when what’s most precious to people is being harmed are they be willing to disturb their routine. Only people who feel that something that’s a part of them is being harmed are willing to sacrifice their liberty. We won’t take to the streets because the state is no longer a part of us. It’s not ours, just as the Judaism here isn’t ours.

Our Judaism is different from that of Arye Dery and Yaakov Litzman. We’re are proud of our Judaism and ashamed of theirs. We fled their ultra-Orthodox Judaism to Israeliness, but our Israeliness isn’t that of Miri Regev and Benjamin Netanyahu. We love the Land of Israel but not the State of Israel.

So why do we send our children to the army? That’s not in our hands. The education system erases every principle inculcated at home.

Our children belong to the state against which their parents should take to the streets. The state raised them to be efficient soldiers and obedient citizens who prefer the law to justice. They’re the police officers who’ll drag us into their van and the soldiers who’ll fire rubber-tipped bullets at us. They’re no longer Ori, Eyal or Ofer from next door, they’re anonymous “Israel Defense Forces soldiers.”

Those people for whom Israel is “above all else” will also prevent us from taking to the streets. You’re right, they’ll say, but now isn’t the time and that’s not the way. “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people,” King wrote from a jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama.

The price will indeed be heavy. Not only the army and the police will be there but also the other Israel, the first Israel, the Israel that rules. The Israel of the unjust laws. They guard their regime and the corruption – they, the “millions” that Likud’s David Amsalem and Netanyahu will draw into the streets when we’re there.

What will happen then? We can cope with the police, but not with you.

”If sovereignty is applied in the territories without giving the Arabs the right to vote ... this society won’t be worth maintaining,” the late jurist Moshe Negbi wrote. “And then, civil war will not frighten me.” These words were written 31 years ago, and what wasn’t frightening then is definitely frightening now.

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