Equality is courage

Barak’s Democratic Union recently launched a campaign that revolves around the word ‘courage.’

August 21, 2019 21:38
3 minute read.
Equality is courage

Ehud Barak announces the formation of a new party on June 26 at Beit Sokolov in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)

Last week Ehud Barak was caught off guard.

The senior Democratic Union member wanted to express support for the protests in Petah Tikva that are being held to pressure Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit regarding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption cases.

Barak criticized the way police handled the demonstrations. “This is not Turkey and not Venezuela,” Barak wrote in his Twitter account, next to a photo of policemen dragging a protester on the road. “This is Petah Tikva.”

Then he turned to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, stressing the importance of freedom of speech and protest. But instead, Barak had a slip of the tongue.

“Gilad Erdan, Petah Tikva is not Umm [al-]Hiran: Citizens are allowed to protest,” he said.

Umm al-Hiran is a Bedouin village in the Negev. It is unrecognized by the state, and a large-scale house demolition operation was held there in early 2017. On one of the nights when demonstrations were taking place against the demolitions, Erez Amedi Levi, a policeman, and Yaakoub Musa Abu al-Qia’an, a local math teacher, were killed. Reports said that Qia’an was approaching the security forces in his car, and police shot at the car thinking that he was about to carry out a ramming attack. A bullet hit him in the knee, his car hit Levi, and al-Qia’an bled to death waiting for emergency responders to arrive.

Immediately after the event, Erdan and the police declared that it was a terrorist attack, and that al-Qia’an had carried out a ramming attack against the police forces there. Some reports even suggested that he was linked to ISIS.
However, reports the following year said that there is no clear evidence that it was an attack, and that al-Qia’an was probably shot before he accelerated the car. Erdan never retracted his remarks.

Barak, a senior member of a left-wing party, was heavily criticized for implying that protests in central Israel (i.e. by Jews) are legitimate, while protests by Arab citizens in the Negev are not.

Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh, who attended the protests in Umm al-Hiran and was hit in the head by a police rubber bullet, said that Barak should resign from the Knesset race. “Now Ehud Barak revealed his true face again… Ehud, it is allowed for citizens to protest in Umm al-Hiran as well,” Odeh said. “It is allowed for the Arab citizens to protest, too,” he added.

Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz slammed Barak as well.

In a press release supporting the demonstrations calling to indict Netanyahu, Peretz said that the right to protest is a cornerstone of freedom of speech.

“Israeli democracy should guarantee [the right to protest] in Petah Tikva, in Tel Aviv and also in Umm al-Hiran,” he said.

Barak later sent out a clarification of his remarks, saying that he meant that in Petah Tikva, Erdan would not be able to cover up police brutality such as in Umm al-Hiran. However, it seems that this clarification could not cover up for his slip of the tongue.

This perception, unfortunately, reflects the view of many Israelis, including politicians and the establishment itself. Arab citizens are not entitled to the same standard of freedom of speech as Jewish citizens. In many cases, Arab protesters are referred to as “rioters.”

An example of this happened last month, when the Israeli-Ethiopian community closed major traffic intersections and tried to burn a police station near Haifa, while protests against over-policing took place in the Isawiya neighborhood of east Jerusalem.

The first was treated with great patience by Israeli police, who allowed the demonstrations to take place; the latter was treated with major police forces in the streets, and clashes continue to periodically occur even to this day.

It is true that there are differences between communities in Israel. It is also true that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a factor in these incidents. And in some cases, there is a problem of perception of obedience to the laws of the Jewish state.

But the answer should come from our representatives. They should make sure that all citizens are entitled to the same rights. They should bridge the gaps, and make sure that we all feel part of our country.

Barak’s Democratic Union recently launched a campaign that revolves around the word ‘courage.’

Bridging the gaps and raising sensitive issues is courage. And providing all citizens – Jews, Arabs, religious, ultra-Orthodox, Ethiopians, Russians and all other groups comprising Israelis society – with the same rights is courage as well.

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