David K. Rees

An open letter to Shikma Bressler: There is a better way

Dear Shikma,

I am addressing this letter to you for two reasons. The first is that for many weeks I have been at Kaplan protesting the government’s assault on democracy. While my Hebrew is still terrible, all I need to do to stand up and be counted is to chant “Boosha” and “Democratia” when others do and wave my blue and white Israeli flag. I learned to trust you long ago.

The second is that the press refers to a mysterious group usually called something like “protester leaders.” Sometimes a particular person is identified, but the reality is that aside from you, I have no idea who the other protest leaders are. Indeed, I do not even know how many other protest leaders there are.

Since you have no idea who I am, I will introduce myself and share my background in protest and civil rights with you. I am a retired American who made aliyah a number of years ago. I am old enough (76) to have come up at the tag end of the American civil rights movement, having been arrested once for participating in a nonviolent civil rights protest in the United States.

As a teenager, I remember sitting in my bedroom with tears in my eyes watching Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech. Later, when I was in college, I became president of a civil rights group that was formed so that students from my school (Cornell College) could join the march in Selma Alabama.

Between 1967 and 1970, I was involved one way or another in every significant anti-Vietnam war protest in Washington DC. After going to law school, I often went into court, including the United States Supreme Court, to protect civil rights.

Though I never met King, I certainly knew what he preached. A Christian with a PhD in theology, King’s nonviolence was based on his Christian religious values, though, interestingly, in his “I have a dream” speech he relied on the Hebrew Bible, paraphrasing Amos 5:24, saying, “No, we are not satisfied until justice rolls down like a might stream.”

King knew that NOT all of us shared his Christian religious values, so to us he said that if we did not share his religious beliefs, we should adopt nonviolence (which he had learned from Buddhist Gandhi) as a tactic.

What a tactic it was. His 1963 nonviolent marches in Birmingham, Alabama led to Congress passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The 1965 Selma, Alabama marches led to Congress passing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The two statutes together provided such a protection of civil rights, that after that, King was focused on economic equity, something he was pursuing when he was assassinated.

King had three basic rules — rules which I have always followed.

1. Always, be nonviolent.

Setting fires on the Ayalon freeway and attempting to burst through police blockades at Ben Gurion airport are NOT nonviolent.

2. Always take the moral high ground.

Sometimes it is appropriate to get arrested for asserting civil rights nonviolently, as numerous people in Birmingham, Alabama did. When Birmingham top-cop Bull Conner released dogs on the protesters, or when the cops in Selma beat protesters, including John Lewis, with police batons, they did the protesters a favor: the cops buried themselves in the publicity that they created with their violence.

In the United States the right of free speech is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Here, the same right has been established judicially and nobody contests it.

Even in the United States, though, the right of free speech is NOT unrestricted. The police may establish reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on speech. Protesters cannot protest anywhere they want. (Inside the White House, for example, is not allowed), so long as the police provide them with a place from which they can protest.

In Tel Aviv and at Ben Gurion airport, the police have done exactly that. In Tel Aviv, they cordoned off a large enough part of downtown Tel Aviv to allow 200,000 of us to cheer you on. They also refused to permit protesters to block the Ayalon Freeway and were acting perfectly legally and appropriately in doing so. By failing to stay within the confines of the huge area area which had been cordoned off, the protester who did so lost the moral high ground.

3. Always make sure that you are perceived as the victim.

King and his followers could hardly have been more assertive in demanding civil rights, but they were ALWAYS perceived as the victim, whether it was in Birmingham or Selma, Alabama; Albany, Georgia; or Cicero, Illinois (a Chicago suburb). Here, the police were doing their jobs professionally, both in Tel Aviv and the airport. The protesters did their best, unsuccessfully, to make the police look like oppressors.

The proof of the wisdom of the King approach to protest is that it worked. The protests that your group led in the last two weeks were a horrible failure. The legislation which we were attempting to stop became law, and the government gained enormous momentum and incentive to keep trying to ram their assault on democracy down our throats.

I urge you to try the King approach.


About the Author
Before making Aliyah from the United States, I spent over three decades as a lawyer in the United States. My practice involved handling many civil rights cases, including women's- rights cases, in State and Federal courts. I handled numerous constitutional cases for the ACLU and argued one civil rights case in the United States Supreme Court. I chaired the Colorado Supreme Court's Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure and served on the Colorado Supreme Court's Civil Rules and Rules of Evidence Committees. Since much of my practice involved the public interest, I became interested in environmental law and worked closely with environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). I was on the Rocky Mountain Board of EDF. I received an award from the Nebraska Sierra Club as a result of winning a huge environmental case that was referred to me by EDF. I also developed significant knowledge of hazardous and radioactive waste disposal. I was involved in a number of law suits concerning waste disposal, including a highly-political one in the United States Supreme Court which involved the disposal of nuclear waste. As I child I was told by my mother, a German, Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany, that Israel was a place for her and her child. When I first visited Israel many years later, I understood what she meant. My feeling of belonging in Israel caused me to make Aliyah and Israel my home. Though I am retired now, I have continued my interest in activism and the world in which I find myself.
Related Topics
Related Posts