The Chicago Seven in Jerusalem

ISRAEL’S YOUTH are not planning a revolution, and they are not enemies of the state. They just want to live in a country where they can feel hopeful.

MANY PEOPLE were of the opinion that the authorities, which acted with great cruelty, using tear gas to disperse demonstrations, had lost its moral compass. Pictured, a scene from ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ (photo credit: NETFLIX)
MANY PEOPLE were of the opinion that the authorities, which acted with great cruelty, using tear gas to disperse demonstrations, had lost its moral compass. Pictured, a scene from ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’
(photo credit: NETFLIX)
The trial of the Chicago Seven was a case involving seven young Americans who were part of the protest movement in the US in the late 1960s. They were just seven of the millions of young Americans who felt that the moral values they had grown up on behooved them to protest the actions being taken by the US government, which was willing to sacrifice so many American lives in the war being raged in remote Vietnam. Many Americans shared these sentiments and identified with their cause. Although I personally grew up in a country located far away from there, I cannot forget what it was like during those turbulent days.
I remember the storm that swept through US college campuses all over the country, how certain population segments felt alienated and a great disconnect with what their country represented, and, essentially, what the goals the country’s leadership was striving for, both domestically as well as on the international playing field.
I recall the internal controversy that intensified and the hatred between the two camps. On one side were the young people who felt that they were losing out on the opportunity of having a future. They were striving for justice, their vision for their generation in the US could not come to terms with the loss they were experiencing.
On the streets, they were facing policemen armed with batons. They were up against powerful government agencies whose goal was to crush their desires and to overcome them. Many people were of the opinion that the authorities, which acted with great cruelty, using tear gas to disperse demonstrations, had lost its moral compass.
The trial of the Chicago Seven was the culmination of the riots that came to a head during the US Democratic National Convention, which took place in Chicago in August, 1968. College students gathered from all over the country to protest the Vietnam War, discrimination against African Americans, neglect of the environment, which became a central issue, as well as other issues being touted by people who identified with the counterculture.
These young protesters were not associated with any groups that belonged to one political party or the other. They converged on Chicago because that’s where the Democratic Party was holding its convention. The Democrats, – with a sitting president in the White House – were planning to nominate then vice president Hubert Humphrey for president.
It had been an unparalleled and tumultuous year in American politics and on its streets. In March of 1968, then president Lyndon Johnson had announced that he would not be seeking reelection. Two weeks prior, the Democratic senator from NY, Robert (Bobby) Kennedy, had declared that he would run for president.
On April 4th, 1968, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the esteemed leader of the nonviolent civil rights movement and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, was assassinated. His murder led to increased unrest and fueled upheaval in cities all around the US. On June 6th, 1968, Bobby Kennedy was mortally shot just after winning the California Democratic presidential primary, with all signs showing that he had a great chance of becoming the Democratic Party’s candidate for president.
THE MOTLEY groups of protesters arrived in Chicago without a unified platform. But they did all feel that the administration had betrayed them, and they had lost faith in the current leadership, which had sent so many Americans to be killed in Vietnam unjustifiably, without being able to explain what interest the US had there in the first place. Members of the African American community had lost all hope that the equal rights law would actually be of any help, especially following King’s murder. The people were crying out from their hearts in pain and disappointment.
The unrest in Chicago turned violent when – following orders from then mayor Richard Daley – the Chicago police and the national guard soldiers prepared for clashes with the rebellious youth. The police prevented the crowd from approaching the convention hall, and then the fracas turned violent. This led to severe clashes as hundreds of protesters were beaten by policemen. An unprecedented amount of tear gas was deployed and at some point the violence spilled into the conference hall where the convention was being held.
In the fall of that turbulent year, Republican candidate Richard Nixon was elected president. With the help of then secretary of state Henry Kissinger, Nixon made great efforts to end US involvement in Vietnam, which led to growing division within American society, as well as fostering feelings of hatred, a lack of civil rights for foreigners and equal rights for African American citizens.
At the height of this struggle, seven people who’d been arrested during the riots were put on trial. These seven men had been identified as the leaders of the protest movement that was headed by Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and Tom Hayden, who later married Jane Fonda.
Netflix recently released the film, The Trial of the Chicago 7. This film about what took place in 1960s-America is a reflection of what is now happening here in Israel.
Anyone who watches it will realize that after the evil regime – whose leaders turn everyone who expresses any opposition into an enemy and is indifferent to what most of the public aspires to and believes in – has gone, their fate is doomed and they will lose their status and power. It’s hard not to be moved by Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance in the role of Abbie Hoffman, who was one of the protest leaders and perhaps the person who was most closely associated with the cause. He became a well-known icon in the historical consciousness of that unique period in time.
The young American activists did not want the protest to become violent; just like the young Israelis protesting on Balfour Street don’t want violence. They aren’t planning a revolution or hoping to seize power. They are simply sick and tired of what their government represents, of the inattention of the government to the needs, ideas and hopes of millions of Israeli citizens. That is why they go out night after night and protest on street corners and at intersections throughout the country. The demonstrations sometimes end in bloodshed.
ISRAEL’S YOUTH are not planning a revolution, and they are not enemies of the state. They just want to live in a country where they can feel hopeful.
The trial of the Chicago Seven was an expression of the ruling government’s prejudices, fears, maliciousness and impatience. When a country’s leadership does not know how to speak with its people with wisdom, patience and compassion, that is when the police take out their batons and tear gas – and sometimes even live firearms. We’ve seen lots of examples of this type of behavior over the last few weeks in America and I must admit that I was shaken to my core when I saw the brutal police actions taken there by the very people whose job it is to follow the laws and not to break them.
We are fast approaching a situation similar to Chicago of the 1960s. Our prime minister claims that he is familiar with America inside and out.
Of course, this is just a false claim. What he does know well is the political terminology used in the US, the clichés and formulas that are perfect for being quoted in headlines.
He doesn’t, however, seem to understand that a large portion of American citizens suffered for years because their government ignored the needs, feelings and fears of the public. They could not have cared less about what people were passionate about or if they were hopeful.
The young Israelis who are demonstrating can scream, dance half naked in the middle of the city, let their beards grow long and wild, shout offensive insults, hold up rude posters and dress provocatively. But, they are shouting about their pain and the abuses they are suffering. So many citizens have lost faith in the people whose job it was to lead the country. Our young people – most of whom spent years serving in the IDF and devoting their lives to protecting our country – would like nothing more than to be able to work and earn a living. But instead, what they are experiencing is discrimination, while people who did not do national service and have not contributed to the well-being of our country but have political connections, are being protected by a corrupt government.
In another year or two, we will be holding a trial similar to that of the Chicago Seven. The defendants will be individuals who clashed with policemen because they had violated stupid regulations that were completely unjustified.
Just like in the Chicago Seven trial in the US, the defendants will win after sitting in jail, being slandered and persecuted by extremists who were incited by the government. The truth, however, which the protesters will scream out of the inner core of their hearts is stronger than the prejudices and violations of the government.
The political leadership will change, and Bibi will disappear just like Nixon did. Logic, a sense of responsibility and the Israeli people’s sense of solidarity is stronger than the contentious and divisive person who is currently serving as our prime minister.
The writer was the 12th prime minister of Israel.