Personal thoughts on current events, cultural events, Israel, Judaism, Jewish/Israel innovations and life from a Jewish perspective - read into that what you may.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Blocking traffic is classic civil disobedience

Here is part of a definition from

Civil disobedience - refusal to obey a law or follow a policy believed to be unjust. Practitioners of civil disobediance basing their actions on moral right and usually employ the nonviolent technique of passive resistance in order to bring wider attention to the injustice. Risking punishment, such as violent retaliatory acts or imprisonment, they attempt to bring about changes in the law. In the modern era, civil disobedience has been used in such events as street demonstrations, marches, the occupying of buildings, and strikes and other forms of economic resistance.

Here is an article written by someone I know who very eloquently explained the rationale of civil disobedience in Israel today and the road blockings.

Democracy and Civil Disobedience
Written on May 26, 2005
by Dr. Yitzhak Klein
(Dr. Yitzhak Klein is a political scientist who received his doctorate from Harvard University)

On May 16 a wave of nonviolent civil disobedience swept Israel’s main highways. Thousands of demonstrators against the Sharon government’s disengagement plan blocked roads and went willingly to jail. The police confessed their helplessness to keep the roads open. Pundits and legal authorities, in worried tones, said what you would expect them to say about the need to punish miscreants and uphold the law. Does nonviolent civil disobedience against disengagement threaten Israel’s democracy? Quite the contrary. It is potentially the most positive development since the Knesset passed the disengagement law, and gives one hope that Israel may actually emerge from the disengagement crisis with a chance to repair its shattered civil compact.

The most serious fact about disengagement is not the impending destruction of Gush Katif and the communities of Northern Samaria, grave as that may be, but the fact that the disengagement law could be passed at all. Until the law’s passage, Israel’s deep ideological divisions had yet to affect the country’s essential political unity. Every Israeli citizen was an acknowledged member of the political community, his rights accorded equal protection, at least in principle. Disengagement took that political unity and broke it. On the basis of a political dispute, a majority of the Knesset decided to nullify the fundamental rights of a minority.

Israelis are now divided into two classes: Those whose rights are inalienable, and those whose rights are negotiable. Of course, this means everyone’s rights are under threat, even those of political supporters of disengagement. Tomorrow a different majority coalition may decide to tear up somebody else’s fundamental rights: Arabs’, or Haredim’s, or kibbutzniks’.

Disengagement is the act of a society that has lost its moral compass. That’s even more frightening than the threatened destruction of Gush Katif. Some supporters of disengagement argue that civil disobedience against disengagement is illegitimate because the disengagement decision was “democratic;” it was passed by a majority.

That’s disingenuous.As students of John Locke, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King know, it takes more than majority rule to make a law legitimate. Governments are supposed to respect everyone’s rights. If one takes Locke and Jefferson seriously, a government that knowingly and deliberately violates people’s rights loses the moral authority to demand obedience. That’s the real threat to Israel’s democracy.

After the disengagement law was passed, some people started worrying out loud that Israel’s “religious Zionists” (many of them prefer the term “faith-oriented Jews,” Yehudim emuniim), hitherto regarded as the community most active and dedicated to the Zionist enterprise, would withdraw into themselves and lose interest in supporting the State of Israel. The danger is real, and “religious Zionists’” future attitude to the state is a subject of intense debate within that community. Writing in the most recent issue of Azure, Yossi Klein Halevi argues with some heat that “religious Zionists” must continue to support Israel because it remains, in his opinion, a Zionist state. His article has not a word to say about the moral implications of disengagement.

Representatives of the left-liberal Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) took the trouble to come out to the settlement of Kedumim in Samaria and spent several hours arguing that the people of Kedumim ought to retain a sense of obligation to the State of Israel. Their arguments were punctured by a single decisive question from Moshe Feiglin: Did the IDI’s representatives believe settlers’ rights deserved equal protection with those of, say, Arabs? Somewhat abashed, the IDI people confessed that their answer was “no.”

Disengagement’s threat to Israel’s internal cohesion is real. The threat doesn’t have to arise from civil disobedience or open rebellion. It’s sufficient if enough residents of Israel lose faith in the state or interest in its survival. Historians tell us that the fate of Germany’s Weimar Republic was sealed years before it actually collapsed, when a majority of Germans, of both right and left, lost faith in it.

Most Israeli Arabs reject Zionism. So do many Haredim. If “religious Zionists” lose faith in the state, will there still remain a majority of Israeli citizens who feel they have a stake in the Zionist enterprise’s survival? Will they retain the moral conviction needed to sustain it in the face of continued adversity? Even supporters of disengagement may have their doubts, and that is why some of them plead with “religious Zionists” not to disengage from the State of Israel—a demand they do not, of course, have the moral standing to make.

Fortunately for supporters of disengagement, and for the silent majority of Israelis who are told they support disengagement but aren’t sure, faith-oriented Jews don’t conceive of their relations with other Jews in terms of social contract theory. Even if the Zionist state has betrayed them, they feel obligated to uphold the moral and political integrity of the Jewish people, an obligation mere mortals cannot release them from.

And that is why nonviolent civil disobedience may really be good news for Israel. Israel’s faith-oriented community will continue to be engaged with the Israeli mainstream. That doesn’t necessarily mean accepting the Israeli establishment’s view of the justice of its policies, or of its moral authority to demand obedience to them. Many faith-oriented Jews cannot concede that authority and will continue to express a fundamental ethical critique of their society.

This critique goes beyond protest against the current disengagement plan; it demands a fundamental change in Israeli society’s ethics, so that nothing like the destruction of Gush Katif can ever again be contemplated. They will insist that Israeli society is morally deranged and needs to heal itself. One sign of healing might be the adoption of a Basic Law (Israel’s version of constitutional legislation) outlawing the destruction of law-abiding communities. You wouldn’t think a liberal democracy needed such a law, but Israel obviously does.

Principled civil disobedience may be the best service Israel’s faith-oriented Jews can now perform for their country. It represents the best chance for eventually repairing the breach disengagement has created in Israel’s civil compact. Protest movements like the one that took to Israel’s highways this month possess immense moral power and, if persisted in, seldom fail to move public opinion. Chances are that Israel’s faith-oriented protest movement will achieve significant things. In the end even its opponents may be forced to concede that it was all for the best.

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