Sunday, 13 July 2008

Only dead fish always swim with the current.

It has been a hard year, 2002, and it doesn’t require a crystal ball to predict more hard times in store. The outbreak of Palestinian violence, over two years ago, and the Israeli response has wrought immense damage, in body, spirit and property, on both sides. Whether much can be salvaged from the smouldering ashes is a matter of conviction. Meanwhile the violence continues in ebbs and flows.

It is at times such as these that we are asked to show our unity and fit into a ‘national consensus’. Jews, in Israel and around the world, are called to put our differences aside and close ranks; join hands during these difficult times. Anyone daring to step outside this undefined consensus is seen as a threat; a self-hater or a fifth column. Sharon’s government and its institutions have been trying to vilify anyone outside the national consensus. Using President Bush’s vernacular they say: you’re either with us or against us.

But it is precisely during such difficult times that we must reject an abstract consensus, because it is precisely during such decisive periods that those in powers can embark on the most immoral and illegal adventures and not be held accountable for them. At times of crisis, leaders are apt to consider themselves as a body distinct from the rest of the citizens and grant themselves undue authority. No leader is good enough, or wise enough, to be entrusted with unlimited power. We must be heard, not a herd.

The decision by a number of IDF officers to refuse military posting in the occupied territories was a far-reaching act. They are not draft dodgers or fame seekers; they are educated men (and women) who found their sense of duty in confrontation with their sense of morality. Eventually they decided follow their conscience and face jail. They went against the grain and agreed to stand up and be counted. The number of covert refuseniks cannot be underestimated.
Other ‘dissidents’ are working on the ground: Physicians for Human Rights continues sending Israeli Jewish doctors to treat sick Palestinians who are unable to reach hospital due to road blocks or curfews. B’Tselem continues its work documenting human rights abuses in the territories; Jewish parents send their children to learn in Neveh Shalom School, alongside Arab Israelis.

The Jewish people has never spoken with a single voice; it has always been a polyphonic choir singing from different song-sheets – and rarely harmoniously. We all know the time-honoured adage: take two Jews and get three opinions. Perhaps therein lies our strength.

I am not an admirer of our Prime Minister whose politics are reminiscent of Genghis Kan’s, but I would defend him to the hilt to express his views. This is not because I think that one day I may support his odious politics, but because I remain hopeful that one day I will be able to persuade his supporters to think differently. Meanwhile, while defending his right, I will continue to protest against his policies in the West Bank and Gaza strip – policies which have brought neither peace nor security.

As citizens, we do not need to kowtow a political consensus; we are only obliged to act within the framework of the law. I object to any political party espousing a racist ideology or whose members call for the country’s downfall and consort with murderers. This is why I think that Moledet and the United Arab List should be barred from running in the current elections. I eschew any ideology which claims to know all the answers, or purports to be a custodian of the Truth. Karl Kraus once wrote: "In the final analysis every ideology gravitates toward war". We must always be on guard.

In 1968, on the eve of the Pesach, a group of Jewish families, led by Rabbi Moshe Levinger and Eliezer Waldman went with their issue to a Park Hotel, a small Arab-owned hotel in Hebron, ostensibly to celebration Pesach. The visitors took over the hotel and have remained there ever since. At the time this group, the forerunners to Gush Emunim, were seen as messianic madmen, placed outside the national consensus. They and their supporters now set the national consensus.

Consensus sounds nice, but in reality it presents a very real danger. It produces fanaticism and grooms assassins. We must educate for differences of opinion, and the right (and duty) to protest against injustice. In Israel there have rarely been moments of consensus. Neither should there be. Because in the name of consensus sinister things are done: dissenting voices are hushed and protest placards disappear – along with their carriers. Not every critic of Israel is an anti-Semite; not every refusenik is a traitor; and not every supporter of the Palestinians wants to bring down the State of Israel. They may simply have a different view of the situation.
There is nought wrong with going against the consensus.

Only dead fish always swim with the current.

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