I tuned into the beginning of Monday’s evening newscast to see the day’s drama of glory and defeat, watched for as long as I was able before I began to fear nightmares.
And then, when Netanyahu dismissed the hundred thousand or so demonstrators with a wave of his hand and his trademark smirk saying “They’re just some anarchists,” I had a flashback to the 1960s. When American antiwar protestors took to the streets and university campuses, the movement was said to be led by “outside agitators.” These were either mislaid washing machine parts or shadowy figures turning the minds of sheep-like young people against the Vietnam war. They were imagined to be Russian, possibly resembling the cartoon figures Boris and Natasha from the Rocky and Bullwinkle series of our youth. Needless to say, no “outside agitators,” human or machine, were ever identified.
I tried to reconcile the images of streets filled with peaceful marchers waving thousands of Israeli flags with my understanding of anarchism. Who are these anarchists who are supposedly demonstrating against the judicial “reform” (and for saving democracy, even more puzzling)?
I conducted an extremely unofficial poll of people who had joined one of Monday’s protests around the county. Here are some of the responses I received:
“More of a bleeding-heart liberal.”
“I don’t affiliate with any political movements.”
“Hilarious…So freaking depressing.”
“As of last night I’m definitely considering it; can one be a socio-anarchist?” and later in the same exchange, when I explained I was wondering why all those anarchists were waving Israeli flags: “Aha. So I’m clearly not an anarchist, I haven’t and won’t touch a flag, not at a demonstration and not anywhere. I remain fully committed to the rapid destruction of all nation-states.”
As I understand it, we should laugh and cry at the same time, and Bibi might be turning at least a few people into anarchists.
And while we’re on the subject of flags: Handing Israeli flags to the demonstrators could be seen as a brilliant stroke, co-opting the symbolism of the “flag marches” through East Jerusalem by Ben-Gvir supporters and their ilk. On the flip side (where there is also a blue, six-pointed star), the flags may be inclusive to many in the middle-right to center-left of the political spectrum, enabling ex-generals to join to protest; but they are uninviting to others, especially Palestinian citizens of the state and those who are uneasy with the slippery symbolism of the flag.
Who are these anarchists who are supposedly demonstrating against the judicial ‘reform’ (and for saving democracy, even more puzzling)?
So how did all these people become labeled anarchists and why is the term today’s subject of debate? My husband, who also showed up to protest and has rarely identified as an anarchist said: “Calling people leftists was not strong enough. They needed a better boogey man.”
I mean, are anarchists so bad? Would it be so terrible if some of those protesters were anarchists? (Note to anarchists: If you are in the protests, you need bigger flags.) When I was in college, (a hotbed of leftist thinking) many years ago, the Jewish anarchist and influencer, star of many a popular T shirt, Emma Goldman, was a role model for a lot of Jewish women. According to the Jewish Women’s Archive:
“Emma Goldman dedicated her life to the creation of a radically new social order. Convinced that the political and economic organization of modern society was fundamentally unjust, she embraced anarchism for the vision it offered of liberty, harmony and true social justice. For decades, she struggled tirelessly against widespread inequality, repression and exploitation.” Does that sound overly threatening? (Granted, she was not exactly a pacifist.)
Quite a few founders of the first kibbutzim, as well, came from pre-revolutionary Russia, and many were activists, including followers of the anarchist Russian prince, Kropotkin. They founded their communities with a fundamentally egalitarian format, in which peaceful, ordered anarchy was meant to ensure everyone got what they needed and shared the resources. In other words, some of the very people who built this very country were anarchists.
Honestly, if I were a real anarchist, I would not be joining the protests, and I would certainly not be flying flags of any sort. I would be sitting back, watching as the Knesset passed one section after another of the new law pushing the state closer to a theocracy. Then I would sit a bit more, waiting for the Jewish state to collapse under the weight of its own absurd decisions, after the young secular people who might have served in the army and paid taxes have fled, after the religious right have stifled freedom of speech, after the advent of a Palestinian uprising unlike the previous intifadas, after the coalition got so hopelessly entangled in the contradictions of their own making, they could not escape. Anarchists can let today’s politicians do most of their work for them, only revealing themselves at the right moment and giving the final tiny push to tip an already teetering state.
Clearly, we are now meant to understand the word “anarchist” as “threat to the current government.” But, as I have written before, words and symbols are important. The flag does not just mean whatever we want, there was intention behind that Jewish star. Anarchism is a group of political theories on how people might live without centralized government. Calling the protestors anarchists is not really an insult, it is simply incorrect. Calling the protest movement by its real name: “People who are seriously worried about the justice reform and its implications for democracy,” is the true threat to Bibi and his coalition. In that case, let’s keep calling this movement by its name.