My Day of Rage

It is fashionable these days to conduct “days of rage.” I live in the Mideast, and see plenty of things both abroad and locally that provoke my outrage.

Israeli flags 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israeli flags 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It is fashionable these days to conduct “days of rage” – a day of protest promoting various political causes. The first manifestation was in Tunisia in January, via demonstrations 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 outpost in the West Bank. They blocked traffic on public roads and rails until physically removed. On March 11, disgruntled Saudi Arabians conducted a day of protests.
Those were organized days of rage, but I see no obstacle to conducting personal days of rage. I live in the Middle East, 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 FIRST burst is directed toward the foreign pundits who chastise Israelis for their anxiety about the outcomes of uprisings 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. This supercilious journalist’s scolding ignores experience with usurpation of “democratic movements” for oligarchic or theocratic ends, as occurred in Iran, Lebanon and Gaza.
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 worry about potential for hostile exploitation of Egyptian political chaos and economic hardship. This apprehension is not inconsistent with a fervent wish that the Egyptians promote dignity and security for their citizenry.
I preface my expressions of rage about internal Israeli matters by saying that Israel is a miraculous accomplishment. I live here because I admire the progress in a scant 63 years, but there are significant blemishes.
Take, for instance, the notion of a Greater Israel (settlers demanding expropriation of the entire West Bank with its multitudes of Arab residents). The main claim is that Israel is entitled to control all that territory because it was divinely promised 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 Bible cannot, I think, justify a result so antithetical to human dignity. Permanent occupation and control is not slavery, but is still inconsistent with the dignity of an objecting population.
TURNING TO Israel inside the Green Line, I find plenty to remonstrate about. I am proud that the Declaration of Independence endorsed the principle that Arab residents are entitled to full citizenship and equal rights. The Supreme Court has embraced that principle in its rulings over the past 60 years. But it is troubling to see modern erosions of that key democratic value. Recent polls indicate that close to 50% of Jewish Israelis 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 Safed not to rent to non-Jews. 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 prospects of peaceful coexistence.
Don’t think that the Jewish sector is the exclusive source of demonizing treatment. Many 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 of the owner.
When Operation Cast Lead was launched against Hamas in Gaza in response to many thousands of warheads fired into the Negev, local Arab politicians reacted as though the operation was an unprovoked assault. They did not identify with the hundreds of thousands of Jewish Israelis living under bombardment. Nor have Arab politicians shown any sympathy with the blockade of Gaza.
Arab-sector politics has generally exerted a counterproductive focus on foreign policy (meaning the occupation of Judea and Samaria) while neglecting the legitimate claims of Arab citizens to equal treatment. Israeli democracy offers promotion of minority rights, but the actions and voices of Arab politicians are a far cry from the civil rights movement launched by African- Americans in the 1960s. Voter registration, elections, nonviolent protests and antidiscrimination litigation were the classic tools to combat discrimination.
To parallel the success of the American civil rights movement, Arabs would have to fully accept Israeli sovereignty and vigorously seek – through democratic means – to attain the equality set out in the Declaration of Independence and Supreme Court jurisprudence.
A final outburst is aimed at public behavior. For generations, Israelis have cultivated an image of superficial coarseness – supposedly like the sabra plant, prickly on the outside and soft 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. For example, in sports crowds. Some Betar Jerusalem fans had often hurled racist insults at Arab soccer players. Now they have added thuggery. It’s pathetic when a Tel Aviv fan cannot travel to the Betar stadium in Jerusalem without being chased and having his car windows shattered.
That’s enough for one eruption. I’m signing off till the next accumulation of bile generates another personal day of rage.
The writer is professor of law, emeritus, at Rutgers University School of Law, Newark, and a former member of the law faculty at Tel Aviv University.