What will we stand for?
It is striking. Every time a new law is passed there is uproar from a few thoughtful people out there. The blogs, social networks, and street corners light up with the voices of people who care, but the direction of society heads toward darkness.
These days it is emerging as a global reality. It is happening everywhere. Protestors are being shot dead in Nigeria and Syria, Egypt’s revolution is being co opted by the country’s Western backed military, Canadian cities are heading towards deep austerity measures, and the United States has started cutting and pasting its constitution, allowing for indefinite detainment of citizens under the National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed as 2012 began.
When the NDAA was passed it was pleasing to see outrage erupt online, but what will change? Despite popular movements for democracy and fair economic systems growing in the majority of countries in the world, violent measures have been taken by the very governments charged with protecting the balance between freedom and security.
In Israel, it seems that a new freedom, right, or democratic ideal is lost on a daily basis. These days the Supreme Court is ruling that Arabs who are citizens of Israel and who marry Palestinians without Israeli citizenship cannot live with their spouse in Israel. As well, refugees who seek asylum are destined to find themselves in jail if they dare look to Israel for help. On another front, anti-woman action coming from portions of Israel’s Orthodox Jewish community is tolerated by police and government. As if unaware of its clear and present irony, a bill is being discussed to ban the use of the word Nazi outside of educational frameworks.
Of course, the occupation of Palestine continues. More homes are built for Jews while Palestinian homes are toppled. Palestinians are finding the wall wrapping itself around their lives. There are literally roads that Palestinians cannot drive on. The policy in the West Bank seems to be aimed at destroying any possibility for a Palestinian state through construction for settlers and destruction for everyone else.
All of this sounds like a description of the American south prior to the 1960’s. It sounds like South Africa before the 1990’s. It sounds like Europe in the 1930’s, or like a description of life under the heels of some ancient empire.
Violence, inequity, racism, and despair are all present here. Some of this seems as if it is a joke or unbelievable. Who would enact such ludicrous laws? Don’t they see how unjust they are? Israel is a microcosm for the loss of democracy that is occurring in every corner of the globe where their may have been democratic rights, freedoms, and responsibilities at some point. These days, Israel seems like a testing ground for analyzing how much a population will put up with. The answer is that the majority will put up with most things.
It’s not surprising, but it is upsetting. In cafes and schools, young and old alike lament the world that may have never been. Watching the news and following twitter feeds reminds them that the societies that they imagined they lived in are non-existent. Conversation reminds them that they have partners; that the majority won’t stand for it, but the reality seems to be that this direction is bearable, that the majority has too much to do, not enough time, and a deadly touch of cynicism, which makes it possible for those who find power and profit on this path to keep on pushing forward.
At the risk of being arrested for mentioning it, there is a famous quote about the Nazis first coming for the communists, but the person who said it (Pastor Martin Niemöller) was not a communist, so he said nothing. Then they came for some other group, but he wasn’t in that other group. Eventually they came for him and there was no one left to say anything. It seems obvious that this can happen in any society. Unfortunately, it seems that the only time people are willing to organize and fight back against the loss of freedom, economic opportunity, or injustice is when those things have a direct impact on one’s own daily life.
In 2011 millions of people have found a voice in social movements around the world, but this occurred partly because the majority of people have found that their debt, taxes, and future prospects are unfair. Their own lives were hit. This happened in Israel too. The tent protests that marked the summer of 2011 across the country have died down. Small victories were won. It seemed that the voices of the people were heard. There are still organizers working hard, but the popularity of the movement has turned from flames to embers. Perhaps it is the winter and things will pick back up when rain is no longer a risk?
If Israel is to claim that it is any sort of Jewish state it must first reflect the values of justice and humanity, which are at the core of Judaism. Any state that does not first reflect those ideals cannot be Jewish. As well, if people in Israel are to claim any connection to Jewish tradition and culture, a struggle towards those values is necessary. If we do not find our selves heeding Rabbi Hillel’s advice to be for ourselves and others, and to do it now, we will find that we are no one, nothing, and the time to act will have passed.
It is true that the vast majority of people have to struggle everyday just to eat and maintain life under a roof, but when will life become unbearable? When will it be too much? Will it happen when a public speaker is arrested for saying the wrong word and never seen again? Will it happen when Palestinians can no longer even leave their homes? Will it happen when refugees are rounded up en masse on a daily basis to be thrown in jail? Will it happen when it is not the spit of Haredim, but their fists that strike an 8 year old? Will it happen when unemployment and unhappiness reach 20% or 50%?
Life does go on. Parties are still fun, reading on patios is still relaxing, schools are still full of children, markets are still full of tourists, science and media still progress. Despite all of this the overarching motion is toward a society where life’s bright spots are scarce. Organizing, outrage, and action need to continue and become central in our lives here and now.
At Tuesday’s demonstration against the new anti-refugee law it felt good to be among hundreds of people who, on a few hours notice, came together to make a statement against fascism, racism, and the withering of democracy.
Still, it was striking to see hundreds more sitting in cafes surrounding the demonstration just staring at us.
A. Daniel Roth is a writer, photographer, educator, and organizer. He is originally from Toronto, has lived in a commune in New York City, and recently moved to Tel Aviv. He works with the Hashomer Hatzair Movement, the Organization for a Free Society, and he is intolerant of lactose. You can also follow him on twitter: @adanielroth