Roads of Protest, paths to anarchy

Anarchy in the streets of Tel Aviv

Amir Ohana, in an interview shortly after his appointment as temporary Minister of
Justice asserted that not all Court rulings should be followed. The response was
immediate and quite fierce with the Chief Justice of the High Court, Esther Hayut,
stating:

“I take an extremely dim view of a justice minister in the State of Israel, on the day
he is sworn in, choosing to share with us an unprecedented and irresponsible judicial
worldview according to which not all rulings handed out by courts should be
honored,” Hayut declared.

“In other words, any litigant can from now on — with the justice minister’s blessing
— choose which verdict needs to be obeyed and which does not,” she added. “With
that worldview, the path to anarchy, in which everyone does what they feel like, is
short.”

The recent demonstrations by the Ethiopian community showed just how short of a
distance Israel is from the type of anarchy where demonstrators block roads, assault
motorist, and stone bypassing cars. Road blockages are now almost an accepted part of
demonstrations with the Ayalon Freeway becoming a favorite site to block and to
bring half the country to a standstill. How did that ever happen?

The right to demonstrate, of free assembly, is one of the basic rights in a democracy.
Israel has always allowed demonstrations and there are laws regulating not the right to
demonstrate but rather the extent that any demonstration should be allowed to disturb
the rights of others. There is no inherent right to block roads, which in its essence is a
type of violence, certainly not for hours at a stretch. Yet through the years, the police
in Israel has been a bit uneven in their enforcement of the law. The result has been
anarchy.

The handicapped, the LBGT community and recently the Ethiopians have all made
road blockages part of their demonstrations. Each group has its own grievances, but
the method seems to be constant. Their subjective pain in their eyes justifies inflicting
pain on Israeli society as a whole by preventing commuters from traveling to their
desired destination. “Only such measures”, they state, “will make Israeli society
understand our pain”.

From a practical stance, blocking roads is a rather economical way of maximizing
impact on the public by using rather limited human resources. In peak hours,
congestion approaches capacity and even limited disturbances can generate huge
delays to the ever-suffering Israeli motorist. It is also very much in line with the
anarchists ideal of the “propaganda of the deed” to change society through concerted
action. This is particularly true when the deed is used to “raise the spirits of the
oppressed and give hope to the downtrodden”.

Road closures are also very expensive to the public purse.

How expensive? The latest demonstrations could have easily cost Israel, in terms of
lost productivity, several tens of millions of shekels. Think of a million people
delayed just 20 minutes on the average and the figure is at least 6 million shekels.
Since Israel is currently facing a budget deficit, and that cuts will be made soon in
expenditures, any sum lost will result in larger cuts in the very social programs that
are slated to be spent to help the very groups that are blocking the roads. What it
means to the father traveling home to his children, a daughter visiting an aging
parent, or those on the way to a wedding or celebration is beyond the calculations of
cost.

Those demonstrating know that, as marginal communities in Israel, that the police
will be hesitant to use force to remove them from the roads. Pictures of police
manhandling handicapped demonstrators or confronting angry Ethiopians is the last
thing the police want to see on the evening news. Public sentiments might give the
LBGT community some leeway but if the demonstrator is an Arab, a settler or an
ultra-religious Haredi, the chances are that the police with their batons will clear the
roads quickly. So much for equal justice and equal enforcement of the law.

It is not at all clear that blocking roads is effective in achieving the demonstrator’s
goals. Whether those goals include receiving extra funds for programs they need, or
gaining sympathy from the public, blocking roads could be self-defeating. Like
Moshe and Aaron (as in last week’s Torah portion – Parshat Chukat) sometimes
talking to the stone is just as effective as hitting it with a stick – and certainly without
the nasty after effects.

The Berl Katznelson Center found that online expressions of hate toward the
Ethiopian community rose 40 –fold in the midst of the latest demonstrations. While
one can argue that the explanation for that peak given by deputy director Anat
Rosilio-Adler as being lame and contrived (poor Berl must be turning in his grave), I
am not surprised by the increase they reported. I would rather explain the outburst as a
gut response by angry motorists reacting to having hours of their time, wasted, sitting
in traffic and having nothing better to do than to post their anger online. Perhaps the
demonstrators would do better if they shut down the internet, instead, or at least
before, shutting down the roads.

On a personal note, I have this advice to the few Ethiopians who decided to block
roads and use violence against fellow Israelis:

The “settlers” or the Israelis living in Judea and Samaria, have a problem with
a small group of misguided youth (probably less than a hundred) who believe that acts
of aggravated vandalism directed towards our Arab neighbors can make some sort of
positive effect. Doesn’t matter that the majority of the Settlers are against such
childish acts or that our Rabbis insist that the public aid the police in apprehending
and arresting the criminals, the settlers as a group pay a high price in public opinion
whenever some slogan is painted in any Arab village (and yes, unfortunately, worse
has resulted). These acts of crime are called “price tag attacks” and the perpetrators
are anarchists of the worse sort.

The latest demonstrations by the Ethiopian community were nothing more than a
“price tag attack” against Israeli society in its entirety. The roadblocks and the
violence towards police and those attempting to break through the blockades was an
ugly display of senseless hate against all not belonging to the demonstrator’s community. While clearly the work of a small set of individuals, the acts reflect poorly on the Ethiopian
community as a whole, and a large portion of the responsibility for reigning in that
violence lies with the leadership of that community. Violence is not the way to
achieve any goals or gain any sympathy. Violence can only bring anarchy.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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