Avi Shamir

A Clear Choice Between Hope and Hate

Hate stared us in the face last Saturday afternoon on Gesher Ha’Ari, a bridge in Netanya over Route 2 where a group of forward-looking Israelis demonstrated in favor of the Change government led by Ya’ir Lapid. It happened when two carloads of Ben Gvir’s zealots stopped on this bridge to harass us. We were looking the other way, brandishing our signs in view of the southbound traffic on the coastal road and waving at the drivers who honked their horns in support. In contrast, the haters who ambushed us (shortly after our “police protection” inexplicably left the scene in their patrol car), expressed their loathing for Israelis who don’t share their sick point of view with provocation, death threats, curses in three languages, saliva spewed with venom and a show of a deadly weapon.

All told, things got ugly quickly and could have ended much worse. One venerated member of our group, a seventy-year-old woman, suffers back wounds after she was knocked to the ground by an assailant half her age. The incident was documented with video footage of the violent attack and duly reported at the local precinct. The police, however, have somehow turned the victim into the accused, apparently based on allegations made by the attackers that they were squirted with pepper spray. Hence, the provocateurs got just what they wanted: to incite violence and then play the victim. Three days before the elections, as it were.

Just to make things clear:

The right to assemble before an election or anytime between elections is a cornerstone of democracy.

Any attempt to disrupt a peaceful demonstration using provocation, threats, abusive language and/or physical violence is punishable by law.

As demonstrators, we requested and received police protection to prevent any such disruption.

For reasons unknown, the police abandoned their post with the demonstration still in progress.

By coincidence, or right on cue, two carloads of Ben Gvir supporters pulled over to badger us as soon as they saw that the “coast is clear.”

Stopping a vehicle on a bridge for reasons other than a mechanical problem is punishable by fine.

Pushing a seventy-year-old woman to the ground is punishable by imprisonment.

Pepper spray is legally sold over the counter in Israel for use as a means of defense.

Showing a deadly weapon at a demonstration is a sure show of criminal intent, if not proof thereof.

I may not be a lawyer, but most Israeli citizens are expected to understand these things. Ben Gvir is a lawyer, sort of, and has a special appeal for citizens who have no such understanding of the law. Not surprisingly, this is the same Ben Gvir who has a history of provocation and incitement to violence going back to the Rabin assassination.

And now, this dubious lawyer who takes the law in his own hands is riding an alarmingly large support base with the intent to secure the position of Minister of Internal Security.

Not too promising, huh?

Let’s be fair, though: Ben Gvir and his enthusiasts must have a reason for hating Jewish Israelis who don’t think like them. Indeed, the object of their hate is as clear as the horizon on a bright summer day over the Mediterranean. They hate us for the very hope we are trying to express when we stand on Gesher Ha’Ari and bridges all over Israel: The hope for continued change under normal leadership free of corruption and criminal charges; the sensible hope to combine right and left, Jew and Arab in a political climate long plagued by internal strife; the hope for social equality, a stable middle class that doesn’t lapse into poverty, basic secular education (Math and English) for the haredi community, pragmatic environmental action, much-needed funding for police protection in the Israeli-Arab sector and the long neglected Bedouin community in the Negev; the hope for a government that doesn’t thrive on terrorism while it delivers payoffs to Hamas; the hope for residents of Sderot and Netivot to continue to enjoy relative peace and quiet without hearing sirens or having to run with their children to bomb shelters; the hope for continued defense of our northern border without the irrational fear that an Arab MK or two might object; and the certainty of passing a budget without hoping for it so much – all of which the unlikely Bennet-Lapid coalition started to accomplish or at least put on the table over the past year and four months.

Indeed, this country was built on hope that took generations to realize, and it was built by the type of people who stand on Gesher Ha’Ari. Which is precisely why Ben Gvir and his fanatics hate us so much. Because they know that if our hopes are allowed to continue in a democratic society run by sane leaders, then their insane agenda of eternally pitting Jew against Arab and Jew against Jew gets washed down the sewer of history where it belongs.

On the eve of the election: To all Israeli Arabs who still question why they should go out and vote, the answer is clear: Because Ben Gvir and his goons want you to stay home.

To all Jewish citizens of Israel who come from liberal, left, middle of the road or moderate right backgrounds wondering why they should take the trouble to go out and vote: Same answer.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.