Home demonstrations

Demonstrators can rail against whomever outside the office but not at home. The right to protest is not the right to terrorize, intimidate and harass.

July 6, 2013 23:33
3 minute read.
Social justice protestors in Tel Aviv

Social justice protestors in Tel Aviv 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

It has already become routine – each weekend small bands of demonstrators assemble outside Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s home, with megaphones, and hurl high-decibel invective on behalf of assorted causes – from denouncing natural gas exports to demanding child benefits.

These demonstrations are not disconnected. Frequently the same populist or even anarchist ringleaders orchestrate the loud happenings.

Sooner or later, these deteriorate into public disturbances in quiet residential neighborhoods. It does not take conspiracy theories to identify these weekly clashes as deliberate and calculated provocations, quite distinct from the spontaneous grassroots outlets for popular resentment that the organizers claim them to be.

Moreover, these are hardly new on our scene. Though Lapid is the current favorite target, this tactic preceded his entry into politics by decades. Political polarization has often taken Israeli demonstrators beyond the public domain.

This in-your-face style of dissidence has become increasingly common and more radicalized through the years. It is not rare and rarely raises eyebrows. Neither is it necessarily centered on political controversies. Soccer hooligans serially home in on the residences of team owners, managers and coaches.

Clearly, few Israelis subscribe to the adage that a man’s home is his castle, especially if the man in question is a prominent official or public figure. His home in that case becomes fair game and harassing family members a legitimate means of eliciting all manner of concessions.

Demonstrators in this country have never been partial to genteel understatement.

Israeli conventional wisdom sanctions demonstrations as disruptive and annoying as can be. There are hardly ever any hesitations about closing major traffic arteries during rush hours, depriving thousands of ordinary citizens of vital utilities or endangering the health and livelihood of others. The more vociferous, belligerent and brazen the protest the more effective it is judged to be.

Israeli demonstrators think nothing of targeting the immediate family of whomever they rally against. Spouses, children or elderly parents all evidently must pay the price. It is assumed that having risen to prominence, anyone in the public eye forfeits his and his family’s right to privacy and consideration.

During Binyamin Netanyahu’s first prime-ministerial term in 1996 his opponents made it a point to gather outside his residence when his then-young sons were due home from school and kindergarten. The children could not grant anyone’s wishes but the logic was that causing them misery would discomfit their father, if not make him more pliant.

When Silvan Shalom was finance minister in 2001 to 2003, hostile protesters regularly besieged his Ramat Gan home and five children.

When the Oslo process began, outraged settlers congregated outside then-Shas leader Arye Deri’s Jerusalem apartment house, chanting loudly. Whenever his children appeared, they were accosted by catcalls about their father’s treachery and hypocrisy. The youngsters eventually were afraid to leave the flat.

Similar demonstrations were held each Friday afternoon in front of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s house. His wife, Leah, often referred to them as the precursor to her husband’s 1995 assassination.

Yehiel Kadishai, aide to prime minister Menachem Begin, recalled the particularly combative demonstrators camped outside Begin’s residence during the 1980s Lebanon War day after day, around the clock, in any weather, with no let-up. The chanting never ceased. The bloodcurdling refrain branded Begin a murderer and likened him to Hitler.

Aliza Begin was terminally ill with emphysema, but the demonstrators could not be prevailed upon to consider her grave condition. They woke her up in the middle of each night with shrill denigrations.

Then-police minister Yosef Burg offered to disperse the protesters, but Begin refused, arguing it was their right to voice displeasure, though he could not understand why his wife and neighbors had to suffer on his account.

Perhaps it is time to finally go against our apparent grain and keep volatile and inflammatory politics away from the homes and families of public figures.

The right to protest is sacrosanct in democracy, but for this we have city squares and government buildings.

Demonstrators can rail against whomever outside the office but not at home. The right to protest is not the right to terrorize, intimidate and harass.

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