Dissent in Israel is a Dirty Word

June 18, 2012 by Raffe Gold
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Israel is celebrated, even by it’s enemies, as the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East…write Raffe Gold.

Raffe Gold

As neighboring Arab states shot and killed their own citizens who were demanding basic human rights, we in Israel took comfort that our government could be held accountable for its actions and that the most important voice in all the land, the voice of the people, would always be heard. The Jewish State stays true to that to this day but, just recently, the people’s voice is being increasingly muffled and those who claim to represent the will of the people appear to be doing anything but.

The summer of 2011 was like no other time in Israel. Whether the people had enough with putting up with high prices or it was just too damn hot outside we saw the streets come alive with protests. Israelis of all shapes and sizes, of all religious creeds and of all economic and demographic composition shouted in frustration at the injustices that they were facing.

Basic foods were selling for exorbitant prices, families had to debate whether or not they would pay rent or eat meals and the middle class decided not to bear the burden of the Haredim any longer. As they watched their sons and daughters dutifully draft into the IDF after school, their anger at the state-supported ultra-religious who appeared to do nothing to support the country, boiled over.

The old joke that ‘if you wanted to make a million dollars in Israel it’s best to come with two million’ felt less like a joke and more like a depressing reality. Those who had had enough began to populate the streets in their tents and their hammocks. Soon Israel had her own Depression-era Hoovervilles….a Bibiville if you will. The protests quickly spread from Tel Aviv to Beer Sheva, to Haifa and Jerusalem. The country was finally reacting to the multitude of problems that had plagued her for years. Then. It was over. Still Israelis felt proud of themselves and that things could actually begin to change.

Fast forward one year. Attempts to renew the vigor of the social protests were crushed this past weekend. Some of the original tent activists began to populate Rothschild Boulevard once more but their non-violent protests were smashed by the police. A protest organized legally in Beer Sheva was relegated to a street filled with half-constructed buildings where no one could hear the social message being touted by these activists. One of the activists, a friend of mine, was threatened with a beating for simply walking out of line. This is not the democratic Israel that enables the voices of the Israeli people to be heard. A democratic country is one that can take both compliments and criticisms.

Yet it is almost not surprising considering the way that politicians treat the elected offices that they hold. Minister for the Interior Eli Yishai has been cracking down on African refugees with considerable zeal. Already under a significant amount of public scrutiny for his multitude of failures over the 2010 Carmel Fires, amongst other fiascos of his office, the upcoming government report into the fires is thought to state that Yishai failed his ministerial responsibility in overseeing operational readiness of the fire department. The only reason that the report does not recommend Yishai be ousted from cabinet is because it is not within the powers of the State Comptroller.

Yet let us not stop at Yishai. Yisrael Beiteinu MK Anastassia Michaeli said last week that ‘most gay people suffer sexual trauma at young age and commit suicide at 40’. This truly inaccurate and confronting statement reeks not just of ignorance but a strange and antiquated attitude towards Israel’s gay community. The fact that it was uttered by an elected official in the government shows that there needs to be a serious amount of education at the Knesset. Israel cannot be accused by the international community of ‘pinkwashing’, highlighting Israel’s liberal position on gay rights in an attempt to deflect from its treatment of Palestinians, yet still have such bigoted hate speech from its parliamentarians.

We in Israel, and in the Diaspora Jewish community, like to compare Israel to her immediate neighbors when talking about civil rights. We look at the repression in Egypt, the shelling of Homs in Syria and the gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia in order to show that despite living in an area where human rights are debased by government and religion, Israel is able to uphold the most sacred of values. This is true. But let us stop comparing ourselves to those around us and let us now compare ourselves to the intrinsically Jewish values that shaped our culture. Let us take the values that saw Jews marching step-by-step with Dr Martin Luther King, Jews as the intellectual and moral leaders of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the ethics that were championed by Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Let us truly apply the words ‘Never Again’ that we say so often.

Raffe Gold is a recent immigrant to Israel from Australia. He can be contacted at twitter.com/raffeg


6 Responses to “Dissent in Israel is a Dirty Word”
  1. gabrielle says:

    Thanks Raffe. We in Australia rarely hear the truth and even less often want to acknowledge it.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      Thanks Gabrielle for your sincerity in confessing your limited access to the truth. You do reslise that, thus, you exclude yourself from what is commonly known as competence in the matters discussed here.

  2. Stewart says:

    Thanks Raffe for your perspective. One of the beauties of the Jewish tradition is the example of the courageous few who dissent against societal norms (despite great personal sacrifice to themselves and their families). Each generation has their examples and you named them including the civil rights movement in the US and anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

    Like you Raffe I look to a day when human beings can live free of fear and free of want.

    Shalom Salam Peace

    • Splendidly put Stewart !
      Love the logic of ” a few ” who determine an entire “Jewish tradition”. Thanks Raffe for eliciting good fun.We is still laughin’….

  3. Paul Winter says:

    Spot on Otto.

    Gold starts with claiming that Arab uprisings are for human rights. He lives in the region but is deaf to the religious conflicts and power challenging that is the order of the day for Arab tribes.

    Whatever occurred in the summer of 2011, certainly dissipated by autumn. When my wife and I were there, everything was quiet, the shopping malls were crowded, people went about their business, clean and well fed. But then again, Raffe’s Jerusalem may not be the golden city we visited.

    And fancy the threat to democracy that a protestor can be threatened with a hiding if he breaks the law. How undemocratic indeed. A true democracy has laws to protect lawbreakers!! Or does it?

    And what burning issues Gold deals with. Because Yishai’s failed with bush fires, he is wrong on African refugees as well. So there! And that a member of the Knesset can make a “bigoted, hateful speech” about homosexuals means that Israel’s position on homosexuals is hypocritcal. Why if Israel was a true democracy, no person could possibly be elected to the Knesset, if she or he didn’t toe the party line, Arabs excepted of course. Israel could on fact copy the democracies of Moldova and North Korea and have legislatures that spoke with one voice – that of the leader.

    Let us indeed be true to our Jewish heritage and live up to the ethos of “never again”. Let us start by forever eschewing immoral equivalences.

  4. Reducing political comment to a basket of decayed reasoning to which is added offensive parallels right from the outset ( see the analogy between the arab pervasive criminality and , would you believe, the “reaction” by the Isarel Government to dissent ), relentless Master Gold trumpets, once again, distorted neurotic kveching with the pretence as socially just appraisal.

    Wonder why the price of democracy is so inflated by unwanted “extras” !!!!

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