Ma Nishtana HaLayla HaZeh
By Yoram Symons
So why was this night different from all the others? One simple word. Violence.
Which in so many respects, isn’t anything new at all. The Jewish people have long suffered the assaults of violence. There were the Egyptians and Babylonians and Romans and Cossacks and Nazis. And obviously, there is the violence we are reminded about at every possible opportunity, the violence of the terrorists and the Islamo-fascists and Hizbullah and the Hamas and everyone in between. We learn about this violence from kindergarten, drink from the wellspring of collective suffering at our youth movements, and repeat each year with our families at the Seder Table – in every generation they stand upon us to destroy us.
But on this night, finally, the Jewish people had the opportunity to suffer violence perpetrated against them by their own Police Force.
It began yesterday, with what could only be described as the utterly brutal take-down of Daphni Leef. An entire coterie of riot police rushed a young girl, holding her down to the ground, kicking and smashing. The scene was like nothing I had ever seen in my life. To watch Israeli policemen assault a Jewish girl like that was a brutal wake-up call to the contemporary reality of the State that shocked even someone as cynical as me. This was no longer a nation of smiling kibbutzniks building a new country hand in hand. This was something very, very different.
And last tonight, it was on again, with over 80 protesters arrested. Some of them kicked on the ground, or dragged away by groups of riot police. It was a scene out of some twisted and inverted Zionist nightmare. The State is now turning the awesome power of its security apparatus to silence the dissent amongst its own.
And before everyone jumps up and down and says –ha, go to Syria, or to Egypt, or to Jordan to see what it’s like when a state unleashes its security apparatus against its own citizens. Before everyone jumps up and down and points to how much more lenient and merciful the Israeli police are than any of their counterparts in the Middle East, or even the world, let’s just all step back and take a deep breath.
Yes, you are right. Israel is not as bad as Syria. And from what I hear from the Melbourne Occupy Movement, it isn’t even as bad as the State of Victoria. But this is Israel we are talking about, a country whose entire raison d’être is to protect Jewish people against physical violence.
So here is the skinny.
These protesters are, without any doubt, among the brightest, most idealistic and inspirational Jewish youth in a generation. All of them believe passionately in one thing and one thing only – to make Israel a better place for its citizens. Agree with them, or disagree with them. Call them communists or socialists or radical libertarians or any other useful moniker that can put them in a neat box and explain them away as just another bizarre curiosity of the Israeli experience.
But these kids are your kids. Had they been born in Australia they would all have joined Hashi or Habo or even Betar and Bnei Akiva. They are the kids who would have been the school captains, the AUJS leaders, the madrichim and the chanichim. Every time you see any Jewish person engaged in activity to promote the Jewish cause, just think, if that kid were born in Israel, in all likelihood, if they are especially dedicated and especially talented and especially care about the welfare of their fellow human beings – you know, all the traits we try to encourage and praise, then they would probably be part of the Israeli Social Protest movement.
The Israel that the Israeli government is so keen to advertise to its most loyal fanbase (i.e. you guys), is one of a tiny country threatened on all sides, that has to do whatever it can to survive. The Israel that the Israeli government is keen to promote to its most loyal fanbase is a hi-tech wonderland that powers innovation and makes deserts bloom.
But, unfortunately, that’s only the Israel of the Birthright tours and the shnat programs and the other various junkets and trips that people do over here. Historical sites, incredible nature, great beaches and a few superhero entrepreneurs, scientists and computer programmers.
But that Israel is not an Israel that any regular Israeli has ever really seen. Instead they experience a country where virtually all of its politicians are mired in the thick of corruption scandals, where the banks literally rape them at every single turn, where the entire middle class lives on perpetual overdraft, where housing is crushingly expensive and where hundreds of thousands (if not millions) literally cannot afford to eat. And moreover and more importantly than that – it is a country that many, many Israelis – descendants of those smiling-faced hand-holding kibbutzniks are desperate to get out of. Just pack up and leave.
This is the Israel that the Social Protest Movement is protesting.
It is protesting against a corrupt government and a crony capitalism as decrepit and as innovation-crushing as any third world junta. The Israeli Social Protest movement is trying, maybe well, maybe not, but trying, to bring the State of Israel back to the vision upon which it was founded. To be a light among nations, an exemplar society. A state that truly cared for its people, where poverty is unknown and freedom rings. Hell, they are trying to bring the State of Israel back to the vision articulated by Moses and Isaiah and Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai.
If there has ever, in the past 64 years of statehood, been a movement that truly represents the very best of what Israelis are capable of, this is it. And their government hates them. Or should I say, your government hates them, because they shine a light onto all of the things that the Israeli government does not want you to see. That’s right, what it doesn’t want you – its most loyal and dedicated fans – to see. Because that just undermines everything they have been telling you.
So be a Zionist. And support Israel. The real Israel. And demand to know why the government that acts in your name is treating its best kids with the worst contempt. Because not only is this not right. It’s just not Jewish.
Yoram Symons is an oleh chadash (new immigrant to Israel) from Melbourne who is an activist in the Social Justice Movement.