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Gayle Meyers
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Something completely different

You can disagree with the Judean People’s Front (or the anti-occupation demonstrators) and still show up to protest
Israeli protesters rally against the Government's plan to overhaul the judiciary in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2023. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)
Israeli protesters rally against the Government's plan to overhaul the judiciary in Tel Aviv, January 14, 2023. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

Times of Israel Editor David Horovitz complained last week about anti-occupation demonstrators at the Jerusalem protests against the judicial overhaul, invoking “The Life of Brian,” Monty Python’s brilliant skewering of revolutionaries whose internal squabbling prevents them from fighting a common enemy. 

Allow me to suggest something completely different: If the anti-occupation demonstrators are kept away from the protests, we may find ourselves in a different Python sketch altogether: the cheese shop where there is no cheese

Horovitz is correct when he says that the main protest organizers have a difficult job of “ideological and practical calibration” to bring out into the streets people who oppose the weakening of the judicial system but are not necessarily secular or left-wing. Anecdotally, he knows people who used to participate in the Jerusalem rallies but stopped attending because they don’t wish to be perceived as “endorsing the Palestine-focused protesters.” 

But, anecdotally (and also documented by news outlets like Kan 11), I know that there are people who have stayed away from the protests specifically because they see too big a gap between the vision of democracy that the protestors are trying to safeguard and the reality of the Israel in which they live, a gap created not only by the occupation but also by other inequalities and injustices in the society. 

Just like the hapless client in the cheese shop, they find that the cupboard is bare. 

With apologies to John Cleese and Michael Palin, imagine a potential protestor walking into Ye National Cheese, er, Democracy Emporium, and trying to get some of the advertised product. The proprietor says, “What would you like?”

“How about opposition to the occupation?”

“I’m afraid we’re fresh out.”

“Solidarity with Ethiopian Israelis in their fight for equal treatment by the police?”

“Ah well, it’s been on order for two weeks, sir. I was expecting it this morning.”

Protests against the discrimination enshrined in Israel’s 2018 nation-state law?

“Sorry.”

Saturday night’s protests, which began with a minute of silence in memory of the 102 Arab citizens murdered so far this year, went a long way toward showing that broadening the message will not kill the movement, but even then, it was still taboo to connect Israel’s democracy deficit with its military rule over millions of Palestinians. According to Haaretz’s Gideon Levy, protest organizers invited Dr. Rawia Aburabia, a law professor at Sapir Academic College, to talk about violence in Arab communities, but they specified that her speech should not touch on the occupation. She stayed away.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Allowing multiple flags and slogans at the protests – even slogans against the occupation – does not have to create conflict or drive people away. First, attending a large demonstration with multiple facets does not mean you have to endorse every slogan. Imagine if the Jerusalemites who wanted to protest but didn’t feel comfortable with the anti-occupation slogans didn’t stay home, but rather just walked past the anti-occupation group to join the protestors whose slogans they preferred. Imagine if the People’s Front of Judea just let the Judean People’s Front do their own thing. 

Second, as Eran Nissim, founder of the progressive umbrella organization Mehazkim, said last week at a conference of the Alliance for Middle East Peace in Jerusalem, protest organizers should not just tolerate this intellectual diversity, they should embrace it. The veteran activists who have campaigned for peace, for social justice, and for economic equality offer a wealth of experience and energy that can help sustain and advance the democracy movement. Without them, the protest will have as many holes as swiss cheese.

About the Author
Gayle Meyers began her career as a policy analyst in the US Department of Defense, fighting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East and staffing the US-Israel Joint Political Military Group. She later directed the Middle East Regional Security program of Search for Common Ground. After moving to Israel, she worked for civil-society organizations promoting peace and a shared society for Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel. She teaches at the Machon L’Madrichim (Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad) in Israel has designed, facilitated, or participated in more than a dozen conflict-resolution initiatives. Gayle received a bachelors degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a masters degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. She lives in Jerusalem with her family.
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