My Personal Day of Rage

The following item appeared in the Jerusalem Post on March 20, 2011:

My Personal Day of Rage

Norman L. Cantor

            It is fashionable these days in the Middle East and North Africa to conduct “days of rage” – a day of protest promoting any of various political causes.  The first manifestation was in Tunisia in January, via demonstrations directed against an autocratic regime.  On February 20, Moroccans widely demonstrated in favor of political reforms.  (Was it just coincidence that I was present in Morocco that day?  Perhaps.)  On March 2, Israeli settlers declared a day of rage to protest the army’s destruction of an illegal settler outpost on the West Bank.  They expressed their upset by blocking traffic on Israeli public roads and rails till physically removed.  On March 11, disgruntled Saudi Arabians conducted a day of protest demonstrations.

Those were organized days of rage, but I see no obstacle to conducting personal days of rage.  I live in the Middle East (Tel Aviv) and see plenty of things both abroad and locally that provoke my outrage.  So today is Cantor’s day of rage when I get to vent my upset about offensive conduct around me.

My first burst of outrage is directed toward the foreign pundits who chastise Israelis for their anxiety about the outcomes of popular uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world.  People like Roger Cohen in the New York Times (March 3) find it morally “troubling” that Israelis are not wildly applauding these efforts to throw off oppression and gain freedom.  This supercilious journalist’s  scolding ignores legitimate apprehension flowing from experience with usurpation of “democratic movements” for oligarchic or theocratic ends as occurred in Iran, Lebanon, and Gaza (to name a few relevant areas).  The 30-year peace with Egypt has been a cold one in which Egyptians have avoided cultural, economic, and social interchange while largely portraying Israel as an oppressive Satan.  So pardon me, Roger, if I perceive and worry about potential for hostile exploitation of Egyptian political chaos and economic hardship for demagogic ends antagonistic to Israel.  This apprehension is not inconsistent with a fervent wish that the Egyptians use their uprising to promote dignity and security for their citizenry.

I preface my expressions of rage about internal Israeli matters by saying that the development of the State of Israel is a miraculous accomplishment.  I live here because I admire the progress in a scant 63 years, but there are significant blemishes, some of which arouse my anger.

Take, for instance, the notion of a greater Israel (settlers demanding expropriation of the entire West Bank with its multitudes of Arab residents who resist Israeli sovereignty).  The main claim is that Israel is entitled to control all that territory because it was part of the biblical heartland and divinely promised – according to the Old Testament — to the Jews.  This position is sadly reminiscent of the segment of American Jewry (mostly southerners) who, before the Civil War, supported slavery because the Old Testament ostensibly upheld slavery.  The ancient bible cannot, I think, justify a result so antithetical to the human dignity and will of so many people.  Permanent occupation and control is not slavery, but it is still inconsistent with the human dignity of an objecting population denied equal civil rights.

Turning to Israel inside the Green Line, I find plenty to remonstrate about.  I am proud that Israel’s declaration of independence endorsed the principle that Arab residents of Israel are entitled to full citizenship and equal rights.  Israel’s Supreme Court has embraced that principle in its rulings over the last 60 years.  But it is troubling to see erosions of that key democratic value in modern social norms and conduct.  Recent polls indicate that a shocking percentage of Jewish Israelis (close to 50%) oppose Arab citizens’ entitlement to full civil rights.  Along the same lines, a recent letter signed by more than 50 orthodox rabbis urges property owners in Sefad not to rent to non-Jews.  In other words, these rabbis want to obstruct Arab students at the local college who seek to live near their place of study.  Jewish extremists recently demonstrated in Jaffa trying to treat Arab residents as unwanted interlopers even though Arabs have resided in Jaffa for hundreds of years.  Such disrespect for fellow citizens surely undermines the long-term prospects of peaceful coexistence within Israel.

Don’t think that the Jewish sector of the population is the exclusive source of dehumanizing or demonizing treatment of “the other.”  Many Israeli Arabs show a distressing insensitivity to the interests of their Jewish fellow citizens.  On the rare occasions when Jews seek to rent property in Arab towns, the effort is usually repulsed by physical intimidation against any owner willing to rent.  When Operation Cast Lead was launched against Hamas in Gaza in response to many thousands of warheads fired into southern Israel, local Arab politicians reacted as though the army’s operation was an unprovoked assault.  They did not identify with the interests of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis living under bombardment.  Nor have Israeli Arab politicians shown any sympathy with the blockade of Gaza aimed at precluding the smuggling of weaponry into Hamas’ hands.

Arab sector politics in Israel has generally exhibited a counter-productive focus on Israel’s foreign policy (meaning Israel’s occupation of Judea and Samaria) while neglecting the legitimate claims of Arab citizens to equal treatment.  Israeli democracy offers channels for promotion of minority rights, but the actions and voices of Israeli Arab politicians are a far cry from the civil rights movement launched by African-Americans in the 1960’s. Voter registration,  elections,  non-violent protests, and anti-discrimination litigation  were the classic tools to combat prevalent discrimination against African-Americans.  To parallel the success of the American civil rights movement, Israeli Arabs would have to fully accept Israeli sovereignty and vigorously seek through democratic means to implement the equality set out in Israel’s declaration of independence and Supreme Court jurisprudence.

A final outburst aimed at public behavior.  For generations, Israelis have cultivated an image of superficial coarseness – supposedly, like the Zabra plant, prickly on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside.  Israelis were often short on manners (as recognized by those of us shunted aside in bus or bank lines).  That gruffness was tolerable.  Yet new heights of boorishness are being reached in contemporary Israel.  For example, in sports crowds.  Some Betar Jerusalem fans had often demonstrated despicable racism in insults hurled at Arab soccer players.  Now, they have added thuggery to their repertoire.  It’s pretty pathetic when a Tel Aviv fan cannot travel to the Betar stadium in Jerusalem without being threatened, chased, and having his car’s windows shattered, as has recently occurred.

That’s enough for one eruption.  I’m signing off till the next accumulation of bile generates another personal day of rage.



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