Friday, January 18, 2008

Democracy? Hah!

Twenty years ago, Rabbi Kahane declared that Israel is a faux-democracy. His claims were bolstered by the harassment and intimidation he suffered at the hands of the police and Shabak.

In the wake of his death, the Zo Artzenu protests highlighted Rabbi Kahane's grim assessment. Moshe Feiglin and other demonstrators who blocked traffic in protest of the Oslo Accords were beaten mercilessly by the Israeli Police. I know this sounds like hyperbole, but it is not: pregnant women were beaten randomly, and old men were trampled by police on horseback. Fathers were beaten while their infants screamed in their arms. It is important to note that these protests were peaceful, and the use of force was unjustified. Further, the force was not used to arrest some wild protester, as it might be in the US. Rather, it was used randomly as a way to intimidate people. The police were saying, "don't protest. If you do, you cannot guarantee your own protection, or the protection of your children."

After Oslo ended, people liked to believe that this was an anomaly. Indeed, the police and Shabak feed into this, and allow people to believe that there is no threat to democracy.

However, history proves otherwise. Demonstrators against the Gaza Disengagement were mercilessly and pointlessly beaten, often when already in handcuffs. We all remember how a group of policemen pounced on one demonstrator and tore his nose off his face by means of fingers inserted in nostrils. Another demonstrator was handcuffed and restrained in a chair at a police station, and then beaten. Hundreds of incidents, meticulously reported to the authorities, and completely ignored. The offending policemen were not tried. On the contrary, some of them received promotions, proving that this policy is approved from the highest brass, down.

Things seem to have come to a head at Amona. In unprecedented brutality, border police and regular police beat and abused the mostly teenage protesters. The video is horrifying, and shows explicitly the passivity of the protesters, as well as the viciousness of the attack dogs called police.

And now, things take their natural path. Anti-government speech, which is a cornerstone of any democracy, is being silenced in Israel with brutal disregard for human and civil rights.

I want you all to remember: We were largely silent when they came to silence Rabbi Kahane. We were silent when Zo Artzenu protesters were beaten. We cannot remain silent any longer. As Pastor Martin Niemöller wrote regarding the greatest evil of human history:

"First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me."

Secular, religious, right, left, it makes no difference. If we care about our right to protest any injustice, we must be willing to fight for each person's right to protest. I believe it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who wrote to the effect that when innocents are in jail, the place of all men and women of conscience is in jail.

Remember, all it takes for evil to succeed is for good to do nothing. We must fight for our right to disagree publicly with the government. If we are willing to trade our principles for that anonymous safety that derives from not 'rocking the boat', we will find ourselves bereft of both principles and safety.

I see a time in which Israel is led, not by jaded bandits and corrupt officers, but by honest, idealistic heroes. I see a time when the marketplace of ideas is broadened, not narrowed. I see a time when the security of Israel and its national pride are second only to fear of Heaven, and not fear of the US or loss of our fighting spirit. I see these days for they are still in our future. We work diligently and faithfully towards that day, and that day is not far off. No pygmy police or menacing Shabak or corrupt Olmerts will stop that future from arriving.

ואשיבה שופטיך כבתחילה ויועציך כראשונה; ציון במשפט תפדה ושביה בצדקה!

We join Yeshayahu is, not only praying, but knowing, that God will indeed replace our judges to be paragons of virtue and justice, and our ministers as in days of yore; Zion shall be redeemed through justice, and those who return, with mercy!